Cozumel looks forward to added activities, infrastructure

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COZUMEL -- A number of developments are bringing new offerings into the Cozumel tourism fold and enhancements to the existing infrastructure.

An Atlantis submarine. Among the additions on tap for this Mexican Caribbean resort destination are the first championship golf course for the island, an Atlantis submarine, four hotels, and expansions and renovations at existing properties, most of which have been completed. "These new projects will allow us to diversify [our offerings] for the increasing number of visitors expected by the year 2000 and beyond," said Gaston Cantarell Diaz, president of the Cozumel Hotel Association.

Cozumel received more than 300,000 visitors in 1998, and Cantarell Diaz said the destination is projecting a 20% increase in arrivals in 1999. By improving facilities and services and adding options, Cozumel can target a wider range of clientele and capitalize on niche-market segments such as golf, he said.

Construction on the island's first golf course is expected to begin in July and be completed by December 2000. The 18-hole course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, will be developed in the northern part of the island, near three properties: El Cozumeleno, Paradisus and Sol Cabanas del Caribe.

In addition to the golf course, the $60 million development is slated to include one or two hotels and a residential area. According to Gabriela Eisele Thurau, vice president of marketing for the Cozumel Hotel Association, the development will be environmentally friendly.

"This is an ecological project intending to respect all the natural attributes of the area, such as the mangroves and the vegetation," she said. To that end, the golf course will be fertilized with organic materials and will utilize an irrigation system designed to reuse runoff from the island, she said. The 18-hole golf course and clubhouse are being developed at a cost of $10 million. Plans call for an additional nine holes in the future.

Cozumel's first Atlantis submarine was scheduled to begin operating this month. The $4 million venture was introduced to give cruise passengers and visitors who do not scuba dive or snorkel the opportunity to experience the Mexican Caribbean's diverse underwater world, according to Javier Aranda, manager of the Cozumel Hotel Association. "We know there are a lot of people who come to Cozumel but are not able to take in the beautiful reef, so it is a very important addition for the destination," he said.

The submarine, which carries 48 passengers and descends to depths of up to 100 feet, focuses on the marine life at Chankaanab, the world's second-largest reef. The vessel, Mexico's only Atlantis Submarine, previously was located in Cancun.

The offices of Atlantis Submarines in Cozumel are located across the street from the Casa del Mar hotel.

Hotel updates

Meanwhile, Cozumel is significantly expanding and enhancing its hotel lineup. In 2000, the destination will increase its current count of 3,600 rooms by 936 units in four new hotels. Additionally, more than $12 million is being invested by existing properties to upgrade offerings.

The new hotel developments include a 240-room Jack Tar Village inclusive property, a 300-room Regina hotel and a 300-room Iberostar inclusive resort, all of which will be located on the south end of the island, plus a 96-room Grupo Becerra property, which will be situated in Cozumel's downtown area. The four properties are scheduled to be unveiled in 2000, although the Iberostar plans to have 100 rooms open later this year and the remaining 200 ready next year.

Five Cozumel properties are active on the expansion and renovation front: Casa del Mar, El Cozumeleno, Fiesta Inn, Playa Azul and Presidente Inter-Continental.

  • The 98-room Casa del Mar recently completed a series of renovations, including a complete remodeling of its guest rooms and bathrooms and the addition of new flooring and lighting in common areas. The hotel also added a tennis court.
  • A $10 million expansion project is under way at the 100-room El Cozumeleno inclusive resort. The project will include the addition of 154 guest rooms in a separate building, another pool and a meeting room accommodating 600 people.
  • A number of renovations recently were finished at the 180-room Fiesta Inn, including the addition of handrails for guest room balconies, air-conditioning units, in-room safe-deposit boxes, new curtains and a poolside terrace.
  • A $1 million enhancement project currently under way at the 30-room Playa Azul is scheduled for completion by December. The project entails constructing 27 guest rooms, refurbishing 16 guest rooms and adding a swimming pool and a paddle-tennis court.
  • The 253-room Presidente Inter-Continental finished a renovation project that included the addition of a meeting room for 50 people and a beachview gym. Bathrooms in all of the resort's guest units were also refurbished under the initiative.
  • Parks and reefs

    In other developments on Cozumel, the southern part of the island will be home to a new ecological park sometime this summer. Called Punta Sur Park, the development is part of the Cozumel Parks & Museums Foundation's 12th anniversary project. The park will feature a museum of navigation and excursions incorporating bird-watching and opportunities to view the various other fauna and the flora indigenous to the region.

    In another ecological effort, the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park implemented a program in which visitors to the park can donate $2 to help fund preservation projects. Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park encompasses an area of 67,133 acres and includes about 85% of the island's dive sites.

    Three programs currently are funded by the donations. The programs involve scientific monitoring of the reefs, public education and regulation of activities in the protected natural areas.

    Additional programs are in the works, such as a beach- cleaning initiative and a project to alleviate environmental pressures caused by scuba diving. To reduce ecological pressure on the reef, certain areas occasionally are closed while access is permitted to new dive sites.

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