>> Monday, October 13, 2008
From an article by Cyntia Ord on the Web site of the International Ecotourism Club:
Que onda, vos? This casual Guatemalan greeting, translating to “hey, what’s up?” is one of the first things Spanish students from all over the world will learn inside Guatemala’s many Spanish schools. For the past ten or fifteen years, Guatemala has built a growing industry upon the fact that foreign tourists will pay to learn Spanish as part of a vacation experienc e. The proliferating supply of Guatemalan Spanish schools is as diverse as the foreign tourist market that seeks it, generating economic opportunity that reaches Guatemalans, especially women, of all backgrounds. Guatemala’s reputation as a Spanish-learning destination has bolstered tourism in the country. Rather than just passing through Guatemala with cameras and guidebooks, travellers are stopping awhile to learn the language, communicate with the people, and enjoy the new dimension of access their new Spanish skills will grant them.
Guatemala predicts the arrival of 1.7 million tourists for the year 2008, a 5% increase over 2007. Tourism has experienced similar annual growth patterns since the early 1990s when the first Spanish schools started appearing. The signing of the 1996 Peace Accords ended the country’s brutal 37-year internal armed conflict. As the political turbulence stabilized, foreigners poured in from all directions – governmental and NGO (non-governmental organization) personnel, private interest developers, missionaries and religious organizations, and especially tourists ready to fall in love with the country’s vibrant indigenous culture, natural wonders and historical treasures. A common theme among all the outsiders was that they wanted (or needed) to learn Spanish. Enterprising Guatemalans picked up on this growing demand, and the first licensed Spanish schools started opening in Antigua. Other Central American countries have since followed suit, but Guatemala still leads in price and quality of services. An internet search for Spanish Schools in Guatemala also yields more results than similar searches for neighbouring countries.
Like other sectors of the Guatemalan economy, the Tourism industry and the Spanish School industry are plagued by informality. Schools open and close without even registering with the two monitoring institutions, Guatemala’s Department of Tourism (INGUAT) and the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), making a total count of Spanish schools impossible to find.