Cozumel property promotes lasting family ties

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COZUMEL, Mexico -- Mexico is a hot sell for travel agents who have families for clients.

The ideal family candidates are those seeking the enriching travel experience of another culture, a kind of travel that scores with the socially conscious, ecosensitive baby boomer category of family travelers.

Cozumel is taking the lead in developing a family travel product, and Isla Cozumel alone has a half-dozen properties actively pursuing this growing and lucrative market.

As Hans Bratt, general manager of Presidente InterContinental Cozumel, sees it, it makes good sense.

"I see travel patterns focusing on entire families, with multiple generations wanting to travel together," Bratt said. "This is a big change."

When Wendy Murphy, a travel agent at Linden Travel in New York, sends families to the property, she said she knows they'll have a great time.

"The staff loves kids and families," Murphy said. "You never have to worry as a parent about your child running through the lobby or embarrassing you.

"Everyone who works there gives such personal attention to the kids," she added. "They really enjoy them."

Kids participating in the Chiqui Club at the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel are offered a range of activities. The Chiqui Club, the Presidente InterContinental's children's program, plays a big part in the resort's Family Vacation Experience package.

Murphy called the program a "huge value-add" and said she wishes the hotel would do more to promote it. The complimentary club for children ages 5 to 12 operates 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, year round.

It introduces children (and parents for that matter) to Mexican history and culture by teaching Spanish, creating handicrafts, learning authentic songs and dances, playing local games and building pinatas and kites.

Additional activities include the iguana search, frog races and pool and beach games. DVDs are on hand for rainy days.

Murphy said she has seen the club in action and appreciates the mix of Spanish- and English-speaking kids.

"The people in charge really do personalize the activities," she said. "What I saw were creative experiences from an enthusiastic, talented staff."

Alicia Owens, an agent at Advanced Travel in Lufkin, Texas, has booked many families into the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel but was unaware of the Chiqui Club.

"It'll be a very valuable tool when it comes to booking families in the future," she said.

Owens said she steers families to the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel because "it's a lovely property with wonderful rooms."

About half of the clients she sends there are families, Owens said.

"They love the service, the view from the rooms and, of course, the exceptional diving and snorkeling right on the property."

Owens says the property is perfect for clients not seeking an inclusive resort.

General manager Bratt said about 25% of the Presidente Intercontinental Cozumel's business comes from travel agents.

"[Travel agents] are critical to us, and we are very sensitive to their needs," he said. "We value them greatly."

Bratt said agents are beginning to go directly to the hotel for bookings and not through wholesalers, "so we want to be ready for them and be sure we do what we can to accommodate their needs."

Presidente pays 10% commission to agents and offers agents who want to stay at the property a flat 50% discount on any published rack rate.

Bratt pointed out that his staff is always working on new ways to reward agents who send clients to the hotel.

He said the property keeps the agent community informed of new deals, promotions and news through e-mail blitzes.

The hotel's Family Vacation Experience package costs $255 per room, per night, double, through Dec. 20; $355 from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1; and $255 from Jan. 2 through April 9.

The package includes a beachfront room, two doubles or one king-size bed and daily breakfast. For children ages 12 and younger, it offers free participation in the Chiqui Club, a snack between lunch and dinner and bathrobes.

In addition, up to two children 12 and younger stay for free in their parents' room, and a second room is offered at 50% off. Baby-sitting is available for $11 per child, per hour.

Meanwhile, for agents who book 45 room nights via either the rack rate, family package or golf package, the resort will reward the retailer with $1,000.

For additional information or to make reservations, travel agents should call (800) 327-0200 or visit the Web at www.intercontinental.com.

Kaleel Sakakeeny covers the family travel market for Travel Weekly. He can be reached at [email protected].

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