Karen Ayala has been guiding Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America since 1998. She started working with Maya Trails in 2013. She’s also an archaeologist, entrepreneur, and a Mom!
Here is her story in her words:
My Professional Story:
I became a professional certified tour guide in 1997, but started working on tourism a year later, and up to now I have guided people who visit from all over the globe. My job is not limited to the Guatemalan Republic, but to other Central American countries. I have been doing tour guiding for about 24 years now and have realized that working on a field predominantly managed by men, women are a positive influence and impact of feminine leadership in society and communities.
In addition to the exciting job I develop, I’m the founder and collaborator of other tourism projects such as Audioguides Gaia.gt and 502 Destination, both based on sustainable traveling. Along the years I have been part of different projects, cooperating with educational, academic and entertainment TV channels, magazines, newspapers and books, mentioning a few: “Follow Me Taiwan”, Chanel 3 in Russia, Primer Impacto United States, BBC News England, Mentiras Verdaderas Chile, Prensa Gráfica El Salvador, Journeys Magazine Canada and others not mentioned here. During these and other interventions, it has been able for me to meet some personalities of different fields.
Education is one of my other passions and due to it I got the degree in Archaeology studying at the San Carlos University, then attending to several congresses, symposiums and conferences my education has been complemented. In 2018 I studied a diploma in Inspiring Women at National Business School and more recently 2021-2022, I´m studying a Masters in Sustainable Tourism at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala.
My Personal Story
Since I have memory, the will of travelling, meeting new friends and getting to know about other cultures stuck in my mind and on my very first opportunity of working on tourism appeared, I took it and since then, the rest is history.
I have been married for 19 years and my only son, is my inspiration for doing projects, working hard and keeping our family dreams and plans firm and consistent, is what wakes me up every day.
Some of my favorite things that I enjoy the most are: outdoor activities, traveling and spend time with my family, making of this one of the pillars to inspire the next generations within my family, in my neighborhood and all who enjoy the same interests and hobbies.
We asked Karen a bit more about her experience as a women working in tourism in Guatemala.
What do you think are the most important thing(s) women in tourism contribute to the professional/ industry?
There are several things women contribute and improve tourism industry, just to mention some:
1. Women count on a delicate and friendly treatment when communications with tourists and visitors are carried out.
2. Through tourism women´s leadership within their communities and society are key for other ladies and girls to follow that model full of knowledge, culture and empowerment.
3. In general women who develop a job in tourism are economically independent.
How do you feel things have changed for women working in tourism in Guatemala over the last decade or so? Are there more opportunities for women now?
In 1998, when I started getting involved in tourism, it was clear that the industry was managed predominantly by men at all levels, and women did occupy medium and lower positions in companies; but in the last decade in Guatemala it is not surprising to find women being in charge of different touristic services, entrepreneurships, leading tourism companies, organizing teams at operative and professional fields. Mindsets are changing for better opportunities within the whole country.
How do you think things will change for women in tourism in the years to come?
In my experience, I have noticed more involvement of women in tourism, so without a doubt more and better opportunities are about to come, and sustainability conforms a big part of the puzzle, only then advocacy can be created to empower women in every town and every community where tourism is being developed. I´m always positive when I see women getting prepared and receiving education in tourism to make a difference in local and international societies.
What has been your biggest challenge working in tourism as a women?
Well, this challenge keeps coming back and forth every time there is a tourist, visitor, excursionist or a group to visit Guatemala and the Mesoamerican region, and it is “making their travel experience the best of their lives”. Because they will never forget the way you made them feel when traveled with you.
Beyond that, there is no other challenge more important than that one when you provide your service.
What is the best part of working in tourism for you?
Tourism has allowed me to get to know people from different parts of the world and learn about their culture, history, gastronomy and even more important…. Making new friends across the world!
What do you love most about your job?
Presenting the real Guatemala and its authenticity, I love to hear from tourists/visitors how their vision about the country changes while they spend time and enjoy the beauties and culture of the country. That is the part that I love the most and after every trip I say to myself: “Mission Accomplished”.