Working in the travel industry, it's easy to think that we have scored a dream job. And we have. But there's one of us who has scored a touch bigger than the rest: Meet Ivan Nanney, the man who was selected to be paid $60,000 to live in Mexico for six months, sleeping in luxury hotels, immersing himself in the culture, diving deep into the waters and jungles, and capturing it all in footage that he has shared with the world.
Late last year, Cancun.com started a search for a "Cancun Experience Officer." The ideal candidate would know the ins and outs of social media, and would be able to share his or her experiences living, breathing and experiencing Cancun with the rest of the world. With the six months just about over, I chatted with Nanney to find out how the whole experience went, and what his perspective on Mexico and what he could share back.
Q: Why did you apply for the CEO position?
A: I am from Boise, Idaho. I took a cruise my senior year of high school and got a taste of what international travel was like, and how different the world is outside of Idaho. I wanted to leave the country again, so I studied abroad in Spain, did a backpack trip through Europe, traveled South America, and was hooked. I knew I wanted to integrate travel and backpacking into my life. Some friends saw the position for CEO and sent it to me. I checked a lot of the boxes as far as the requirements. Knowing I could do the job, but that it was a long process, I went into it hopeful but without unrealistic expectations. Somehow with luck and strategy, I was able to land the position.
Q: What were some of your responsibilities as CEO?
A: They ranged from filming different sites, storylines, taking photos, sharing Instagram stories, and doing Facebook Live sessions. We work a lot with different tourism agencies in Quintana Roo, and a lot of resorts, so it was a lot of navigating those different relationships and coordinating with schedules, covering the diversity of the destination. Right now I'm focusing on all the footage we have for the storylines, and scripting video so we can give it to our editor to turn it into inspirational videos for people to come down and visit.
Q: What was your impression of Mexico, given how it is often portrayed in the news?
A: This was only my second visit to Mexico. The first time was to Cozumel on a cruise. I see this as my travel career coming full circle. Mexico gave me the travel bug to begin with, and then I got this opportunity to inspire other people to come down. You can't define a destination by the headlines. We intrinsically know that headlines report the worst. But it's hard to apply that consideration when it comes to international destinations. I have felt nothing but safe, and this is coming from someone that walks around with $2,000 worth of camera gear in the downtown streets of Cancun and all over Quintana Roo. The people have been hospitable, amazing and curious. The only thing they want to know is what I'm filming for and how to follow me [on social media]. It's made the experience beautiful.
I struggle with the headlines. Obviously every place has its problems, and you have to be a smart, savvy traveler. But all of Cancun and Quintana Roo is safe because people know how big of an industry tourism is and no one wants that to go away.
Q: What were some of the surprising spots you visited?
A: I'll be the first to admit that I was one who thought Cancun was a spring break destination, with only all-inclusive resorts. I thought it was just a spot to hang out on the beach. I didn't realize the diversity in location, culture and range of activities, from jungle exploring to ATVing to scuba diving some of the best spots in the world.
For me, Bacalar is one of the most off-the-beaten-path destinations. It's an absolutely beautiful, artsy town. I love the vibe here. It's four hours south of Cancun, so not a lot of tourists get down here. Mahahual is another really cool, laid-back beach town with amazing scuba diving and beaches. I also really love Isla Holbox. There's so much nature, with a completely different vibe.
Q: What was one of the most unique experiences you had?
A: I have my top three. The first was swimming with whale sharks. The second was a trip to the Maya Ka'an region, which is a circuit of communities with Mayan elders that still live there and practice the ancient traditions. There's so much history and culture. I also got to go to Kantemo, where you are led through La Cueva de Serpientes Colgantes, the Cave of the Hanging Snakes. This is an adventure nature tour, which was a really unique experience. I would say my other favorite experience was that I got spend a month in Hotel Xcaret, which is like a Mexican fairytale world. I got to visit all the theme park and explore the entire hotel complex. I'm a backpacker and will continue to be one, but having an opportunity to stay somewhere like that and call it home for a month was incredibly cool.
Q: What spots are left in Quintana Roo that are still waiting to be discovered?
A: I think Bacalar and Mahahual. And I hope that people discover the Maya Ka'an region. People come from all over the world to visit ruins and see the shows at Xcaret, but there are still Mayan people living and practicing the traditions who possess the ancient secrets. It is really special to watch a 78-year-old man with a machete climb a chicle tree and to harvest, and to walk around the gardens and try the different plants and smell them, taste them, and learn how to make the food that is entirely from the region. I think people looking to reconnect with nature and spiritual travel will use this as a way to disconnect. When people realize that this is here it will be much more popular.
Q: What is your future with Mexico? Any plans to do a deep dive anywhere else?
A: Everywhere interests me, but after being here and learning how diverse and large Mexico is, I want to explore more in general. But if there's a region I can see myself coming back to in some capacity, whether as a workspace remotely, or finding a job here, it will be Quintana Roo. I am overwhelmed and grateful and hopefully the world I've done will bring more people to experience what I have experienced.