My visit to CATM (Central American Travel Mart) in San Salvador, El Salvador, was three days of meetings, networking, sightseeing, business lunches, awe of local artisans and a constant, but futile, effort to improve my Spanish. In all aspects, I would call an assignment like this a complete success — except for the Spanish, but I tried.
The event itself is a yearly gathering of travel and tourism companies representing all seven of Central America’s countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Set in a trade show atmosphere, I found myself in a large convention show surrounded by several hundred businesses making it easy for travelers to plan a Central American vacation.
As a writer, most of the top tour operators, guides, and travel news information for Central America was all under one roof. I also had all of the the national tourism boards and their ministers of tourism available to me. There were countless interviews and coming events to consider. It was a potential informational overload. Personally, I felt like a kid in a candy store. The convention became decidedly more candy store-ish when I met the current Miss Guatemala 2009 from the Miss Universe pageant, who is tall, smart and super cute. I tried to set up an interview. Unfortunately, tight schedules made planning impossible but a brush with youthful celebrity kept the event entertaining.
As a consumer, I love these types of conventions. I found myself visiting booth after booth, talking about my favorite subject, with knowledgeable tourism folks about all aspects of travel. There are always good food, performances and dignitaries reminding us all the great things to see and do while visiting their home, and while travel is serious business there is always an air of fun.
And fun it was. Later that night, as the convention was coming to an end, the celebration for the next host country for the CATM was just beginning. Guatemala brought performers of all types, drinks, dinner, a rocking band, dancing and the personal assurance of the Minister of Tourism of Guatemala to put together the most spectacular event next year. I had no doubts.
Then, I ran into Miss Guatemala, who yelled in my ear, to get her voice above the party, her apologies for not having an open schedule. Perhaps an interview next year. For now, pulling the reigning Miss Guatemala on the dance floor was enough to cap a great CATM.