Who said profiting from the 2012 doomsday hysteria was a bad thing? Oh, actually that was me. But in this case, I'll let it slide.
The Central American region where the ancient Mayan civilization thrived over 1,100 years ago (between 250-900 A.D.) is expecting an influx of foreign cash this year - through tourism.
Forget all the nonsense surrounding the flawed Mayan "prophesy" of doomsday on Dec. 21, 2012, Mexican officials have announced they are expecting a surge of visitors in its southern five states and airlines flying into Belize - a country known as the "heartland of the Maya" - have committed tens of thousands of extra seats.
Guatemala is even predicting a 10 percent uptick in tourism numbers.
The thing that many seem to forget is that Maya decedents live in the region to this day, continuing time-honored traditions and ways of life. So, whether you have a genuine interest in exploring the Maya or you just want to "be there" at the momentous end date of the Mayan "Long Count" calendar, this is the year for a trip to the region.
"2012 will be a momentous occasion, not only for Belize's large Maya population, but for all Belizeans," said Yanick Dalhouse, the Belize Tourism Board's Director of Marketing. "Given the amount of interest we're seeing from around the world, it's generating global excitement as well."
Though I've been spending most of my time debunking false claims of cataclysms invented by a few doomsayers hell-bent on profiting from people's fear, I've also had the amazing opportunity to gain an insight to the incredible civilization the Mayan people built. And in doing so, I've had a feeling the moment should be celebrated in some way - not feared.
Hundreds of cultural events are planned in the Central American region this year, and there appears to be a genuine push to make sure the influx of cash from the tourism trade trickles down to areas that need it the most.
As reported by Joshua Berman at the Huffington Post, specialist travel agents are steering clients toward programs that are trying to ensure rural Mayan communities see some of this tourism trickle-down.
"We need to include these people in any benefits derived [from tourism]," said Katie Valk, founder and director of Belize-Trips.com, "and offer attractive employment opportunities working to protect, rather than destroy, the environment."
Gaspar Pedro González, a Guatemalan novelist and professor at University Mariano Gálvez, urges tourists to venture away from the cities to experience real Mayan decedents in more rural areas.
"Most Maya are not in the capital," said González, "they're out in the villages and communities." And most traditional tourism infrastructure "is not in Maya hands. It is in white people's hands, the Ladinos, they benefit more from tourism economically. But if foreigners want to visit the more remote villages, to visit this essence of the culture, this essence of life, they should go to the smallest villages where they have conserved the Mayan languages and form of life. Surely the Maya will benefit from this tourism."
In the doomsayers' warped mindset, money should be useless soon after Dec. 21 - should any make the Mayan trip, I hope they invest heavily in the local economy so the Mayan descendants can profit from their irrational thinking.
It's called "giving back," doomsayers.
Image: A tourist walks down the steep stairway of the Mayan pyramid of Kukulcan (El Castillo) at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. Credit: Macduff Everton/CORBIS Source: Huffington Post