Conference focuses on tribes uniting to promote tourism

“We have control over tourism on our land,” said Brian Vallo of Acoma Pueblo. “We’re able to see the economic impact of tourism to our communities. It wasn’t always that way.”

Vallo shared his thoughts at Spotlight on Native America-Southwest, a conference held Aug. 12-13 at the Yavapai-Apache’s Cliff Castle Resort in Camp Verde. Participants included representatives from tribes in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, as well as tour operators from Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas.

Waylon Honga of the Hualapai Nation spoke of the challenges facing their 2,300 tribal members. When Interstate 40 bypassed Haulapai at Peach Springs on Old Highway 66, it devastated their economy. Tourism is helping the tribe recover through River Running on the Colorado River and with facilities and experiences offered at Grand Canyon West.

Opportunities for tribes and tribal destinations to provide updates to each other as well as to participating tour operators were highlights of the conference.

Sharing information, building business relationships and discovering new ways to increase business were the primary objectives of Spotlight on Native America-Southwest.

Raymond Endfield of the White Mountain Apache Tribe stressed the need for partnerships, including important interactions with off-reservation communities. In light of the recent wildfires, Endfield was eager to let everyone know that tribal tourism destinations Hon-Dah Resort & Casino, Sunrise Ski Resort, Fort Apache and their many lakes were untouched by the flames.

Fredrick H. White of the Navajo Nation expressed his desire to focus on partnerships and the importance of making a commitment. White quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said, “I have a dream.” Dr. King had a vision of people working together, crossing the barriers, improving the economy and way of life for everyone.

Spotlight on Native America-Southwest provides the avenue to gain additional skills in working together and to gain a sense of connectivity with neighboring tribes. Tour Operators were eager to make the Native American connections. They were provided a workshop on cultural awareness and were surprised to learn of the cultural differences from mainstream America as well as amongst the tribes themselves. Journalists circulated amongst the participants, jotting down names of contacts and picking up story ideas.

At this event, it was possible to share a meal at the same table with someone from the Arizona Office of Tourism, Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprise, a Native American adventure company, a tour operator and a tourism training instructor. Networking was part of the main course served throughout the two-day event.

It is important to note that the tribes are not in competition with each other. Each tribe has a unique culture, and they compliment each other in the area of Native American tourism experiences. In the words of Vincent Randall, former Yavapai Apache Tribal Chairman, “The most important thing is to open up and give of ourselves.”

The conference, Spotlight on Native America-Southwest, was produced by Mike Finney and Sue Arko of Grand Canyon State Marketing. They also produce the successful annual Spotlight on Arizona that brings Arizona destinations and tour operators from throughout the U.S. and Canada together. Finney and Arko are collecting evaluations and feedback in order to plan the second annual conference next fall.

In the meantime, Grand Canyon State Marketing will be working to help tribal tourism businesses get connected during the coming year. To be included in this networking opportunity, contact Mike Finney of GCSM in Chandler at 480-897-3331.

(Kathie Curley is Navajo Tourism Marketing Coordinator.)

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