TBY talks to Miguel Quintana, Director General of Experiencias Xcaret, on developing new ways to show off all Mexico has to offer.

How did you first start Experiencias Xcaret?

I came on a vacation to Cancún and visited Xcaret, which at that time was just a little area in the woods owned by a friend of mine. It was so beautiful that I bought it and decided to build a public park. That was 30 years ago. Of course, no one knew what kind of park it was going to be. I had seen a similar project in Hawaii many years ago, where there was a park on Polynesian culture, and had the idea to do the same with Mexican culture. The difference with this park is that this land has many natural attributes. Here, we are next to the ocean. Underground rivers meet the ocean and it has a jungle, animals, and flowers; it is a complete piece of land. It was easier to develop a concept to show this part of Mexico to the world, this being the capital of tourism in Mexico. Five years later, we built our second park, Xel-Há, and in 2009 we opened Xplor. Three years ago, we opened Xoximilco and our Xenotes tour. Now, we are preparing to open Xenses. All our parks here are natural sites and this will be the first park that is completely different. I am proud to say that I have never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world.

Who are your target visitors for Xcaret?

Perhaps 20% of the visitors of Xcaret are repeat visitors. From the beginning, I was focused on tourists, foreign and domestic. When we started, we were showing off Mexico through nature. It was a challenge but we were successful. When we added the cultural element, it was a major change in the park, which made it even more successful. With this idea of presenting Mexican culture to the world, we changed our logo to say “Xcaret: Mexico." We were a small embassy of our country in every way. We had Mexican restaurants, Mexican food, and all the traditions of Mexico, especially this part of Mexico. That has been our focus and we have been growing it well. An important element is that we are continuously growing and changing the park. It has been 25 years and still the park is not finished. We always have around 500 employees working on construction. For example, we recently opened a new aviary with around 5,000 birds.

Xel-Há is your second oldest park. Why did you decide to expand to multiple parks?

After we started Xcaret, we received the concession for Xel-Há. It was the only attraction the state had when Cancún opened. It is an underground river and cave. You can snorkel and see fish in their habitat. Xel-Há was successful and was run by the government. When Xcaret started to grow we did a great job in marketing and took many customers away from Xel-Há. Xel-Há was almost abandoned; it had fallen from around 700,000 visitors per year to around 200,000. We took over the concession and invested a great deal of money and effort into improving it. We realized our real business was to make visitors happy and entertain the tourists who came here. We decided to open our third park, Xplor, on the same space as Xcaret. It was a success because there were many small parks; one had zip lines, one had four-wheelers, one had canoes and kayaks, and we put all these concepts into one park. It was four parks in one ticket. It was successful, mainly because all the distribution through the park is underground. We have beautiful underground caves and rivers. You can zip line into the water and it is an integration of sports with the land, the water, and nature.

What role have you played in the economic development of Quintana Roo?

Since the beginning, my belief is that if I can make visitors stay one more day, I will be satisfied and proud. Today, studies say 20% of the visitors who come to Quintana Roo come because of our parks. It is mainly to visit Xcaret, as well as some of our other parks. That is the result of our job and we work to make those numbers higher and give people more reasons to visit our state. If you want to visit the whole park, you need two days. Everyone has different interests and we have many things such that there is something for everyone.

How can economic development work side-by-side with environmental protection in a place like this?

If it is not done at the same time, you will not survive. There are two reasons to protect the environment. This is our future: if you destroy it, you will not have a future. Secondly, we have laws here that need to be enforced. The world knows who are doing this right and who are doing it wrong, and you immediately see the places doing it wrong and they start losing customers. You have to be ahead of everyone in applying conservation, sustainability, and all the rules for our future welfare. In developing the park, we realized that if we had animals, we needed programs to protect the animals. We started a program to protect turtles. We have introduced 10 million turtles to the ocean over the last 30 years. The whole population of macaws in Mexico is about 250 macaws in the wild. In the park, we have around 1,000 of them and after many years of paperwork, we got permits to start introducing them into the wild. In the last two years, we have introduced almost 180. We have already grown the population of macaws here by 55%. We are proud of these things. It is not additional work; it is just noticing what is happening and making a difference.

What is the concept of your newest park Xenses?

With everything new that we do, we try to make it complementary; we do not sabotage our own customers. We try to do things we have not done before. With Xenses, we try to get people to realize the beauty and power of their minds. One of the activities, for example, is walking through a dark tunnel, barefoot, for 130 yards. You will go through a desert, an ocean, the jungle, a suspended bridge, through a forest, uphill, downhill, into a cave. All of this will involve touching, listening, smelling, and imaging these ecosystems—in the dark. You will understand the power of your mind imagining all these without sight. One of the mottos of this park is: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?" All of the things in this park are things you have not done before. We are playing with things you never imagined doing, and that is the fun part. We want to make visitors smile.