Kelly Mattheis, owner of Cozumel Rocks: Concierge and Property Management, hands out her business cards and maps of Cozumel to UNL study abroad students as she explains her advertising tactics.


UNL Journalism Students Compare Media in Cozumel, Mexico

May 26, 2009
By Stephanie Morrissey

One teacher. 10 students. 22 heavy suitcases. All in one crowded taxi van. The Journalism 498 International Media: Mexico class left Omaha bound for the island of Cozumel, Mexico the morning of May 20. Although it may seem to be a touristic vacation spot, Cozumel serves as an ideal location for the group to compare media styles and techniques between the United States and a more developing country, Mexico.

The class' main goal is to discover how the media works in a developing country. Answers will come from meetings and interviews with local business owners, employees, reporters, and residents. The news media, as well as advertising, differ greatly from those in the United States and learning those differences will help the students in their futures abroad.

The recent H1N1 flu scare has brought hardship to this island. Cozumel thrives on daily cruise liners full of visitors who spend money at local shops, restaurants, and island attractions. For almost a month, the whole economic system of this island has been affected by the lack of incoming revenue. It is common to see store fronts with their gates closed and even many Americanized bars such as Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville were still closed weeks after the flu travel warning. Understanding how events such as the H1N1 travel warning affect local perception of news coverage and economic stability are other important topics for the class research.

Not every business is being affected by the lack of tourism on the island. Kelly Mattheis, who runs her own company called Cozumel Rocks: Concierge and Property Management, met with the class to discuss her booming business. Originally from New Jersey, Kelly got involved with hotel management in the U.S. and eventually followed a friend to Cozumel where she has been a successful business woman and resident for eight years. She relies on word of mouth and a positive reputation as her sole advertisements and doesn't turn to travel agencies as a way to reach her clients. In a day when many companies turn to magazines, newspapers, and Internet advertisements, owners like Kelly prove that savvy business skills and personal communication are still the keys to success.

One of the many businesses that have struggled from the H1N1 scare is Atlantis Adventures Cozumel. Students met with Operations Manager Javier Pizaña and Marketing Manager Luis Méndez to discuss their unique business that offers Cozumel visitors a submarine excursion to view coral reefs and diverse aquatic life. Atlantis was forced to close for two weeks due to a lack of cruise ships bringing clients but has reopened, earlier than scheduled, last week. H1N1 scares have sent Atlantis 88% under their average seasonal earnings. With the first cruise ships heading to the island by the end of May, Atlantis managers hope to improve those numbers.

"Meeting with the locals has provided this class with great cultural appreciation and an understanding of Cozumel's diversity," says UNL student Erin Sorensen. The class ventured to the Spanish English Academy (SEA) to get salsa lessons and mingle with SEA students wanting to practice their English speaking skills. "It was easy for us to share in the difficulties that the SEA students were having when learning a foreign language because we have all been through that a lot this week," BreAnna Haessler said. "By the end of the night, I had learned how to salsa, made a lot of new friends, and done some research for my final paper," Erin Starkebaum added.

The class also got the opportunity to meet students from the local University of Quintana Roo to get more language practice, conduct research, and form connections for future exchange programs. The students took time to learn about each other's lives and areas of study. All of the students had a lot in common even though they are from different countries and they exchanged E-mail addresses and planned on a place to meet later in the weekend.

All of the students from UNL believe that they are well on their way to reaching the course objectives. "I feel like we have already met most of our goals and done so much in the amount of time that we have been here," says Katie Gilliland. "It will be easy to write our final papers from all the people we have talked to."

The group isn't letting the unfamiliar climate get in the way of their plans. "I got sunburned the first day we were here and sweat even when I'm inside," Jessica Sorensen added. "I love it here and don't mind putting up with those things in order to learn."