The lesson is about to be taught. Countries vie with each other, achieve peace, discuss and form a somewhat homogeneous group. They land on a long way of demands and concessions in which differences also abound. We're, of course, talking about Central America, one of the finest examples in recent years to follow and perhaps an utopia that has come true because seven nations from this region managed to join hands to bask in the limelight of the European and Asian markets, under a slogan that reads, Central America, So Small, Yet So Big, with the grand opening in Madrid of the Central America Tourism Agency (CATA), putting common interests ahead of their own agendas.

Over the past three years, this project has also mustered up those nations around one event, the Central America Travel Market. Its first edition took place in Guatemala, and succeeded among exhibitors and buyers as both put fairly good turnout numbers. The second gathering came to pass in Panama, though with a few cracks as far as preparations for buyers and schedule organizations were concerned. Even TACA, the event's official air carrier, didn't live up to the expectations.

Now the third edition has come to a close in Honduras and just when we thought the very first mishaps had been left behind, the organizing committee came up with the idea of inviting U.S. buyers, a move that generates a conflict with Costa Rica -with truly regrettable outcomes- because that country's private sector has decided not to attend the event and put buyers on notice beforehand. Costa Rica's new tourism minister -who as a matter of fact is the pro tempore chairman of the Central America Tourism Council- didn't show up either. This creates a slack too hard to take up and churns out new conflicts. Now it's not just one country failing to attend the meeting, but the head representative of all those nations. Either way -and fortunately- this decision made no dent in the buyers who turned out massively for CATM 2006, teaching organizers a lesson about getting a job well done.

On November 15, the council's membership will huddle to decide the future of the association and sketch out the agreements that must be taken to prevent this from happening again, let alone clear up the underpinnings of integration.

The magnificent job carried out by Angela San Miguel and her CATA team through all these years, as well as the support it has garnered from the Central American Council of Ministers to keep the regional bunch glued together, led our publishing company to give them the TOURIST EXCELLENCY AWARD in the GOLD CATEGORY, and a special mention to the Central America Tourism Council for having forged unity in the promotion and development of tourism in the region's seven nations, raking in major achievements not only in migration arrangements, but also in everything linked to fair attendance, promotion and communication.

We're paying tribute to the job this organization has done for the promotion and integration of the seven nations that, for the first time in the history of the Americas, have come together to thrive in a such a major economic sector as tourism. This group has taken important political and social actions for the sake of regional advance. That same effort has made the Central American Tourism Council deserve a similar award that will be handed out within the framework of the World Travel Market in London.

We hope this award could put just another feather in the hat of unity and bring the most developed nation of the region in the realm of tourism back to its senses. That recognition -shared by all members of the organization- should also make that country understand that fields take no doors or gates. We're confident that multi-destination tourism will not only bring benefits to the less developed Central American nations, but will also help to further boost up Costa Rica's own travel and tourism growth.

José Carlos de Santiago