Sam Penrod ReportingChances are most Utahns have either been to or know someone who has visited Central America before. And there are several companies in Utah that offer tours to Guatemala and other Central and South American countries.
The LDS Church has a strong presence in Guatemala: 40 stakes, five missions and a temple. But it's the ancient ruins that many Latter-day Saints believe are linked to the Book of Mormon, that attracts many church members to visit Guatemala.
Book of Mormon Tours, a privately run company based in Orem, advertises it has led more than 300 tours to Central America over the last 30 years. Its web site promotes more than 40 tours this year alone. What takes many Utahns to Guatemala is the country's extensive ruins of ancient temples.
Dr. Allen Christensen, Dir., Benson Agriculture & Food Institute: "There are those who feel that these things were built by descendants of Book of Mormon people, or in some cases Book of Mormon peoples."
Dr. Allen Christensen leads the Benson Institute of Agriculture at BYU, an organization that works to reduce third world poverty by helping countries improve food production. He visited Guatemala last month on business, and says while visiting the country can be a great experience, there are dangers.
Dr. Allen Christensen: "You have to be conscious that there are challenges that can affect your health. There are challenges to the highways and where people are desperately poor, there are things they wouldn't normally do."
Travel experts caution tourists planning a trip to a third world country to ensure they are dealing with a professional tour operator.
Larry Gelwix , Host, "KSL Radio Travel Show": "We have in this industry a lot of well-intentioned people who are referred to as kitchen table operators. They are not professionals; they work out of their homes, their basements. They’ve been to these countries, they've had a great experience, and they want to take people back."
Travel experts caution tourists that they are perceived as being rich and are greater targets for robbery. Guatemala remains on the U.S. State Department's Travel Alert list. The Guatemalean government, however, will provide free police protection to tourist groups if requested by the tour operator.
Larry Gelwix: "Did this particular group request the security assistance going down there.?"
We've posed that question about use of the free security to the attorney for Book of Mormon tours. So far we've had no response. However, in a statement Book of Mormon Tours calls what happened, "a random act of violence that was unforeseeable by all involved."