After spending many years working abroad within the lodging industry, Nicolas Dominguez came home to Mexico with a different perspective on his own culture. Much like the United States, Mexico has numerous groups of indigenous people who for many years were forgotten. However, unlike the U.S., there had not been an outward, open effort made to embrace these cultures. Rather, the repressive rules of Spanish colonization several hundred years ago led to it becoming the dominant culture of Mexico and really suppressed these diverse indigenous ethnic groups to keep their traditions silently within their own groups.
Understanding this was a missing component of Mexican society, and longing to embrace the many indigenous groups’ rich heritages, Dominguez began thinking about ways to incorporate these often forgotten or unspoken native cultures. Dominguez sensed an opportunity when he became general manager of a boutique resort in Esencia in the Yucatán Peninsula, so he began hosting monthly ceremonies where hotel guests would be able to witness small ceremonies that indigenous people with a Mayan background from nearby villages would participate. “They have too much to offer the world,” explains Dominguez of his reason to show some of the local villages’ traditional ceremonies.
At first, Dominguez was able to call upon the local villages’ peoples, and then eventually employees of the resort, who were also members of these villages, to help and participate with the ceremonies. With 75 percent of his employees at that property from the neighboring village, he was able to have a huge buy-in from his staff. He also had the help of a college professor who acted as an advisor.
The ceremonies were simple but important events giving guests an understanding and appreciation of some of these peoples’ cultures up close. Dominguez recalls one particular ceremony that was popular. Female guests of the resort would be adorned by the employees with flowers and ornaments and a led in a procession to a nearby place on the resort where a simple yet symbolically-significant ceremony related to food and the harvest was held. An ancient drum instrument made of a hollowed out log would provide a background rhythm. Men of the village would come bearing fruits and vegetables that were harvested, and the women villagers would then create meals with these foods. The guests would sit down with the villagers and eat the prepared meals.
In addition to the ceremonies, Dominguez’s Esencia resort offered spa treatments with potions using ingredients from the nearby jungle’s herbs and berries. The resort also had dessert offerings on the menu that included local fruits.
What started out as a grassroots outreach to the local indigenous communities evolved into a term called “cultural greening.” Dominguez describes it as, “integrating the local culture into the operations.”
Today, Dominguez is managing director of operations and new developments of HAMAK, a small, privately-held Cancun-based hotel group. He along with his two HAMAK partners, Alberto Remirez and Federico Carstens, want to make cultural greening part of their corporate culture and adopt it into their properties whenever possible. HAMAK defines cultural greening as the development of eco-sensitive properties designed to keep local cultures alive, and focusing on creating guest experiences that recognize, respect, and preserve indigenous cultures.
HAMAK recently announced plans to develop three new properties to be constructed in the next year or so. The properties include the Ikal Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive resort to open October 2011 with its interiors designed by David Rockwell; the second hotel is Chable, a spa resort in Mérida, another property with cultural greening is scheduled to open in November 2011; and the third project, Itaai, located near Tiburon Island along the Sea of Cortez.
Dominguez is continuing a trend of hiring people for his new properties from the local villages. “They take a lot of pride in performing,” says Dominguez of his employees who participate in the ceremonies. He says guests will be encouraged to ask questions of employees to spark discussions and create an interactive experience for them.
Collectively, the trio of HAMAK partners has over 50 years experience in the business. And with an eye for developing luxury resorts utilizing a unique marketing angle, this company looks to build its growth with American travelers who are interested in learning further about Mexico’s indigenous cultures in beautiful locales.