AZ Office of Tourism urges rurak towns and tribes to partner and be creative

Many state, city, county and agency leaders met last week at the Governor's Rural Development Conference to exchange ideas on promoting economic development in rural Arizona and on tribal lands. City Administrator Jim Ferguson was in attendance, and so was Mayor Allan Affeldt who also gave a presentation on La Posada as an example of a catalytic endeavor in a rural community that generally enhances local economy and quality of life.

One of the sessions held at the conference was Native American Marketing and Tourism, conducted by Dawn Melvin, Native American tourism development manager for the Arizona Office of Tourism. The purpose this year for the AOT, Melvin said, was to begin establishing partnerships between tribes and regional communities and organizations to expand tourism activity in the state.

"We can grow our market share by attracting specific types of visitors to these areas," she said. "Here in northern Arizona, our advocacy should focus on the Native American message and experience."

AOT considers cultural heritage to be an important niche for tourists coming to Arizona.

Melvin said a reason many tourists come to Arizona is for the unique experience of Native American culture.

What began in 2003 when tribal leaders got together with AOT to discuss what was needed for the tribal economy, led to the creation of many grants for tribes interested in developing a plan for tourism in their area.

For the coming '07 fiscal year, there were $1.4 million in grants given to Arizona communities. Of the 69 recipients, only 5 were on the reservation, Melvin said.

One of the projects was Highway 264 "Alternative Route to the Grand Canyon Project,' that would go from the Navajo tribe's capitol city in Window Rock, Ariz. to that of the Hopi Tribe in Kykotsmovi, along to Moenkopi, Tuba City and then on past Cameron, the Little Colorado River Gorge and into Grand Canyon National Park.

Points along this route would mark areas of significant interest to tourists. A project in Shonto, Ariz. under the AOT Community Governments program is already working on something that could be a prototype for the Hwy 264 project, Melvin said.

"Here they designed self service kiosks, each with its own unique style, but similar in many ways so visitors could identify them," she said. "I saw some of these and they are wonderfully designed."

Local high school kids in the Shonto area were utilized to design and construct the kiosks. But this is only the beginning of many potential project on the reservation if tribal communities wish to develop this, she said.

"AOT on the Road Community Outreach Program provides an opportunity for tribal members to get in contact with and meet our directors at AOT," she said. "This is a good way for our staff to interact with tribes to make them more familiar and comfortable."

If tribal members contact Melvin at AOT, they can be directed to available grants and other funding sources, as well as ways to assess begin the process of creating a program, which will be of economic benefit to their respective tribal communities.

Melvin said that there are over 60 AOT sponsored Visitor Centers across the state ­ one of which is in Winslow ­ but that there are none on any reservation communities yet.

Another service AOT conducted for state tourism was a two-year survey of tourists coming through tribal lands.

The survey showed that the tribes are not attracting the youth or adults, but mainly the elderly. Word of mouth was the most common method these tourists said they heard about the reservation. And most of the visitors were from Arizona and the surrounding states of California, Colorado and New Mexico.

Melvin said this survey also showed that most of these older tourists come from cultured backgrounds, of which they have a college education, are professional and have a good amount of money to spend.

"The tribal areas need to focus on attracting young professionals and families," Melvin said. "Advertising needs to be stepped up as well to target the younger market."

Recently, AOT began focusing on culinary tourism to promote the unique taste and essence of a region.

"I am going to bring some piki bread from Hopi to the2006 New York Media Marketplace with the intent that it will give food reporters a chance to try something different and write about it which will generate interest Native lands."

AOT is working to change the image of Arizona, from being a state of primarily traditional arts and crafts to that of much contemporary art too. Melvin said they also want to brand Arizona a premier destination for a unique experience for visitors.

"We should be focused on creating regional culinary, outdoor recreation, cultural education and shopping that cannot be found elsewhere," she said.

Dawn Melvin is available for questions and assistance in developing tourism on or near tribal lands. She may be contacted at dmelvin@azot.gov or at (602) 364 ­ 3707. Also the Hopi Chamber of Commerce in Kykotsmovi contact is (928) 734 ­ 3244.

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