Interview with Harris Whitbeck

Minister of Tourism of Guatemala

Harris Whitbeck

Minister of Tourism of Guatemala

Guatemalans love and defend their country

After two decades of notable contributions at CNN, Whitbeck returns to his homeland with a wealth of international experience and a renewed commitment to Guatemala's tourism development. 

What have you done in Guatemala and how did you become a minister?

Well, I returned to Guatemala after more than 20 years away. I started my career as a journalist very young, working for a local media in Guatemala. I had the opportunity to study in the United States and then worked at CNN for 20 years, traveling around the world to tell stories, mostly about conflicts, wars, political instability and natural disasters. 

Traveling for these reasons gave me a unique insight into the importance of travel and how it is simply another way to communicate. When I decided to conclude my time at CNN, I opted to return to Guatemala and dabble in communication in a broader way, including tourism and gastronomy management projects, as I have always believed that there are many ways to communicate. Naturally, this became the path that led me to where I am today. I don't see it as something unnatural, on the contrary, I think I am simply discovering new ways to communicate. Guatemala needs to communicate more about what it has, and I am here to contribute.

How will you apply your previous experience in politics and communication to work with former colleagues to promote Guatemala's new image as Minister of Tourism?

I think this is a challenge, but more than a challenge, I see it as an advantage. Having an institution that has so many highly trained technicians with years of experience is a positive thing. The area of Communication, Marketing and Sales offers opportunities to expand, which is very beneficial. I can add new people to the team, such as corporate marketing experts and communicators like myself, who may not have technical knowledge but already live the institution.

We can strike a balance between the two sides, as both are equally important. Now I feel it is crucial to maintain the technical side, but give greater emphasis to communication. When I received the institution, as a Guatemalan and a consumer of the product, I realized that I did not know that so many things were being done in Guatemala, and this is because less emphasis had been placed on communication. As a communicator, I put a lot of emphasis on this aspect, it is important to communicate more, and this will be my focus.

We are focusing this interview on communication, which I consider one of the fundamental elements that Guatemala must improve. First, communication outside the country must be different from internal communication. Do you have a policy in mind to implement?

We are designing the plan for the year. I took office 10 days ago and, practically upon taking office, I came to Madrid. The team has been working on the design of a plan that we will announce in the third week of February. We are going to present important things.

Guatemala, a safe destination, how will it be communicated?

It is crucial to communicate that Guatemala is a safe destination. One of the big problems in Guatemala is that it has not been communicated against existing perceptions. The new vice minister of security commented to me last week that Guatemala City has had the lowest homicide rates, something that has not yet been communicated. The good news is that we do not need to change the situation; what we need to do is communicate it.

In terms of air communication, what policy do you plan to have for the different continents (Asia, North America and Europe)? What are the priorities?

Obviously, for reasons of geography, our natural market is North America, especially the United States. In the last few months, new U.S. airlines have entered the market, and there are talks with others that were already underway before we took over. Connectivity is basic; we must improve it and achieve a better connection with Europe, in particular. Asia is a bit far away, and in general, the region is not that connected to Asia. However, we can try to coordinate with airlines. For example, there are flights from Tokyo to Mexico City. We can negotiate with the airlines for connectivity, allowing passengers coming from Tokyo to add Guatemala to their trip, creating more multi-destination options.

Harris Whitbeck with Amora Carbajal, Director General of the World Cocoa and Derivates Tourism Destinations Network, at the launch of the Network and related events.

Gastronomic tourism is presented as a referential base for Guatemala to other destinations.

You will see for yourself, if you have not already done so. Guatemalan gastronomy is extremely complex, subtle and has pre-Hispanic roots. Today's gastronomy is a fusion of the ancestral, the colonial and the contemporary. We have a generation of new chefs who have studied and worked in the best kitchens in the world, and are now returning to Guatemala to innovate. Three of our restaurants recently entered the top 50 of the best Latin food. A new gastronomic culture is being created, and it is something we will promote.

Cuyutlán, Tikal, Antigua? What other destinations are you going to launch?

Takalik Abaj is an archeological site on the southern coast of Guatemala. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO months ago and is unique because it shows the direct connection between the Olmec culture of Mexico and the Mayan culture. It is interesting on an academic and aesthetic level, and offers much that is not yet known. Although Tikal is spectacular, there are more than 70 archaeological sites that have not been explored, and we will promote them throughout the northern region of the country. Tikal is beautiful, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Regarding the safety of road travel and individual tourism...

We will work on improving road infrastructure. This government is committed to investing in the infrastructure necessary for the economy to be the main engine of the country, as the president has indicated. It will require more intersectoral coordination to make the necessary improvements. If I see that we need to improve the road between Guatemala and Atitlán, I have direct access to the relevant ministries to manage it. There is a lot of work to be done, but I feel we are in a climate that will allow it, as the president considers tourism as crucial.

Thank you very much, anything you want to add?

To invite you to come. Guatemala is changing, there is a breath of fresh air. It is an exciting moment, a moment to celebrate and consolidate, because Guatemalan citizens have shown that they defend and love their country.

In collaboration with:

Representative of Guatemalan authorities with Pilar Valdés, Director General of the World Religious Tourism Destinations Network.

Guatemala to host event on Religious Tourism and Cocoa

Guatemala joins the World Religious Tourism Destinations Network

Guatemala will host one of the most important religious tourism events worldwide in 2025. This was announced by the director of the Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat), Harris Whitbeck.The Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (Inguat) announced that Guatemala has been chosen as the next host of the world's most important religious tourism event for the year 2025, after its recent inclusion in the World Religious Tourism Destinations Network. This distinction was awarded during the 2024 International Tourism Fair (Fitur), marking an important milestone for the country in the international arena.

Harris Whitbeck, director of Inguat, expressed the honor and responsibility it represents for Guatemala to host an event of such magnitude, highlighting the unique opportunity to promote the country's rich cultural tapestry, traditions, and spiritual heritage. This event not only seeks to enhance Guatemala's profile as a premier tourist destination, but also to boost local economic development by attracting visitors from around the world. In addition, this event represents a great opportunity for the country to showcase its traditions and customs, religious mysticism, Mayan cosmovision and gastronomy. It also shows the living culture of a millenary people of ancestral heritage.

The World Religious Tourism Destinations Network, an initiative of the Tourism and Society Think Tank in collaboration with various companies in the sector, has as its main objective to foster cultural and spiritual exchange, promoting responsible and sustainable tourism practices that benefit both destinations and their communities. Guatemala, with its deep Mayan legacy and spiritual richness, is positioned as an ideal scenario to demonstrate the harmonious coexistence of faith and tourism.

The network aims to unite destinations, organizations and experts in religious tourism, thereby promoting the exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practices for sustainable and responsible development. In addition, the network seeks to promote actions in a respectful and ethical manner. This, so that local communities benefit from them.

The 2024-2028 strategic tourism plan includes strategies to strengthen religious tourism as a source of economy and to highlight the country's image worldwide.

Inguat also emphasizes that this aims to contribute to the tourism industry, benefiting visitors, service providers and host communities. Additionally, to promote the different tourist destinations offered by the country.

This also complies with Article 36 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, which establishes policies and laws to protect freedom of religion. The measure mentions that Guatemalan citizens have the right to practice their traditions and forms of cultural expression that adhere to their beliefs.

Guatemala will be part of the World Cocoa and Derivates Tourism Destinations Network of presented during FITUR 2024.

During the International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR) 2024, the initiative of the World Cocoa and Derivates Tourism Destinations Network was presented, led by the Tourism and Society Think Tank and headed by Amora Carbajal Schumacher, director general of the Global Network of Cocoa and Cocoa Derivatives Tourism Destinations.

With this launch, the opportunity opens up to establish an international alliance of destinations that share a common passion for cocoa and its derivatives. The Global Network of Cocoa Tourism Destinations offers travelers an opportunity to explore the history, culture and fascinating process of cocoa production and transformation from its origin.

The network encompasses a variety of activities and destinations in countries such as: Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, Philippines, Ghana, among others.

In these countries, tourists can discover the secrets of cocoa cultivation, harvesting and processing through visits to plantations. They will also be able to explore factories and chocolate factories, observing the fascinating process of transforming cocoa into other products.

Through the network, cocoa museums in different regions of the world will be accessible, including transformative destinations such as Belgium, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, and others that offer a cultural and educational perspective on the evolution of cocoa. Also for a more interactive experience, the network proposes cocoa trails that guide visitors through workshops and classes, allowing them to learn how to make their own chocolate.

In his speech, Harris Whitbeck, director general of INGUAT, highlighted the historical relevance of cacao for Guatemala. He explained how this product played a central role in the culture and society of the Mayas and the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica.

Whitbeck said that the presentation of this project provides an opportunity for Guatemala to diversify and expand its tourism offerings, which is one of the priorities of President Bernardo Arévalo's government.

He also thanked Amora Carbajal Schumacher and the Tourism and Society Think Tank for inviting Guatemala to participate in the World Cocoa and Derivates Tourism Destinations Network, as this initiative will surely provide a memorable experience for travelers visiting our country.

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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