By Colleen and Steve Isherwood
COZUMEL, Mexico — At the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel, staff respond to Mayan greetings and spa guests can try Temaczal, a Mayan cleansing ritual, and read Mayan legends at bedtime. The small island off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula — just 478 sq. km. — is also a scuba diver's paradise.
While Cozumel is an 18-minute plane trip from Cancun via MAYAir or a 45-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, it is a world away from the party life of Cancun or the Mayan Riviera.
Scuba diving is popular here, said Henry Walther, regional director for four Grupo Presidente hotels, including the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort and Spa. Walther talked about the island's seven reefs, a Jacques Cousteau dive that takes place each year, and Scubafest, which attracts 60 to 70 serious divers who stay at the hotel.
Next year the hotel will celebrate its 50th anniversary. There have been several renovations since it opened in 1969, the latest two and a half years ago at a cost of $20 million.
The hotel seemed largely immune to the troubles with the ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel this past spring. “When we had the travel advisories, we didn't have a single cancellation,” said Walther. “Most of our guests come from Cancun by MAYAir, or fly here directly instead of going through Cancun.
“Not all the world has become all inclusive,” said Walther, explaining that Presidente InterContinental affiliated hotels cater to more affluent travellers. He adds that though there are some very high quality all inclusive properties, his customers are looking for a personalized, customized experience.
Asked what guests enjoy the most about the property, Walther said he often hears that they love the half mile of oceanfront exposure, and the fact that almost every room overlooks the ocean. Some of the rooms have a private, little beach that they can access only through their hotel room or by boat.
“They don't have beach vendors. Nobody bothers them,” he said.
The hotel does get boat-in traffic. “A very big yacht came three times and spent the day here,” said sales manager Patricia Lizarraga. “We invented a day rate, and gave them the room from early in the morning until 6 p.m.”
Walther calls travel agents “our favourite people,” and notes the the type of clients that visit this property go through travel agents to get that personalized service. He estimates that 60 to 70 per cent of their business is booked through travel agents.
The U.S. is the number one feeder market for the hotel with 75 per cent of guests, while Canada accounts for about five per cent.
The hotel has hosted a number of famous guests including the president of Mexico, Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon.
Walther is proud of his hotel service record. “We are in the first five worldwide for InterContinental in terms of guest satisfaction, and are first second or third in the Americas in the last six years.”
The Mayan touch
At the hotel, many of the staff speak Mayan, and they respond when addressed with the Mayan greeting of In Lak'ech Ala K'in, which means I am another yourself. When one of these sacred greetings is given, there is always an action of placing a hand over the heart.
The spa offers several Mayan rituals, including the Temazcal, a traditional purification ritual based on adding medicinal herbs to a burning fire of wood and volcano stones to produce steam that helps flush out the toxins.
Other offerings include the Mayan Lovers Ritual, Yucatan Awakening and Men's Spa escape.
At bedtime, guests receive a brochure with a Mayan legend on their beds. Some are authored by hotel staff, including the legend of Kukulcan, written by Heliodor Mukul Santos, bellman.
Another brochure explained the legend of the iguanas in Cozumel. At the end, there was a reference to the hotel.
“Presidente InterContinental Cozumel has ecological consciousness and thus gives to these guardians a very special place, providing them shelter. Don't forget to visit our iguanas in the three “temples” specially designed for them.”