If you’ve tried to research anything online about the Mayan Empire in recent years, you’ve had to wade through pages of apocalyptic prophecies, all promising the end of the world before Christmas 2012, for the price of a few page views. You aren’t the only one who has noticed that virtual snake oil sales were eclipsing actual information about Kukulkán, the Feathered Serpent and patron of the Mayan priesthood.
Rather than complain about these prophets of profit, Mexico’s tourism officials have been brainstorming ways in which the country can benefit from this misguided global obsession with the Mayan calendar, which both Mayan elders and international scientists agree in no way predicts the end of the world.
“Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012,” explain NASA scientists, clearly frustrated by the hype.
“I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff,” agrees Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun.
Thus, the Mexican Government has decided to make 2012 the “Year of the Mundo Maya,” turning that frown upside down—and funneling some of the money being made off this manufactured hysteria back into Mayan communities. The campaign is designed to increase tourism and infrastructure in the states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Chiapas, and Tabasco, by promoting the region’s rich Mayan history, culture, and cuisine, as well as six of Mexico’s 27 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Mexican President Filipe Calderón acknowledged that the campaign was deliberately timed to coincide with the alleged apocalypse. But instead of selling the endtimes, he announced that “We want the world to know the splendors of the Mayan civilization, with the end goal of positioning Mexico as a privileged and unique tourist destination….This effort looks to give an unprecedented boost to touristic activity in the country’s southeastern states, where this incredible civilization was established.”
“The celebration of the end of the Mayan calendar’s cycle is an extraordinary opportunity to promote the great cultural, historical and human heritage that we posses,” said Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara Manzo. “We are so excited to share the unique Mayan culture with the world.”
Funds freed up for the Mundo Maya campaign will go to improve infrastructure in the five relatively poor states that formed the heart of the Mayan world, as sustainably as possible. This will help build roads, improve access to its epic archaeological sites, and build two new museums of Mayan culture: The Palace of Maya Civilization 11km (7mi) from popular Chichen Itza, and the Museum of the Mayan World in Mérida, Yucatán. The program kicks off on July 21, the start of the Mayan year and runs through December 21, 2012.
In total, these five states welcome more than 250,000 visitors per month, who spend around US$23 million annually, numbers expected to increase as both optimists and pessimists show up for the pre-apocalypse festivities. Cheers!