ASU Develops Sustainable Tourism Training Program for Indian Country

June 13, 2022

Unlike those working in retail or the restaurant industry, tourism professionals don’t just need to get people interested in their product; sometimes they have to convince them to travel a long distance for it.

And if they are natives eager to welcome visitors to tribal lands, they may be more challenged to successfully attract audiences in often harder-to-reach locations than those near major infrastructure and major transport corridors.

Monument Valley is a popular tourist destination in the Navajo Nation. Photo by Manfred Guttenberger/Pixabay
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Even travelers to relatively remote but heavily traveled sites, such as the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, may not know how Indigenous culture and tradition are steeped in stories whispered for centuries among ancient rock formations.

To help tribal land developers better understand sustainable tourism options, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) asked Arizona State University professors School of Community Resources and Development develop a sustainable tourism program specifically for those working to promote visits to tribal lands.

Sherry Rupert (Paiute/Washoe), executive director of AIANTA, said visitors to many major attractions often miss the richness that Indigenous culture adds to that experience.

“Even if you’ve been to iconic places like the Grand Canyon, for example, you haven’t really experienced it until you’ve spoken with native people from the 11 Grand Canyon tribes to tell you about their connection to this place, how they survived there, stories passed down from generation to generation,” she said.

Teacher Kathleen Andereck said his team is developing a sustainable tourism program that will begin in the spring of 2023. Its seven modules are each specifically tailored to tribal communities and nations, using case studies and examples of sustainable tourism already found in those locations.

The program awards a non-credit certificate. It can also be taken for credit in tourism and recreation management from ASU.

Fewer staff are hampering tribal tourism push

Tribal communities and nations may have more difficulty finding business than others in tourism, Andereck said. Sometimes infrastructure and access issues, along with the fact that tribes often have fewer staff involved in promoting tourism, present obstacles beyond what many others in tourism experience.

“Everyone knows about Monument Valley, but there are other opportunities on tribal lands for tourist experiences,” Andereck said. “Not all tribes have the same level of development as others, and roads and infrastructure differ, and that can be a bit limiting for tourism. Sometimes there are different levels of expertise in tourism in different tribes.

Andereck said the program is designed to help those working in tribal tourism promote the fascinating indigenous cultural aspects of many tourist destinations, especially those located on tribal lands often little known to the traveling public.

“Frequently the first time people go somewhere, they visit the most iconic attractions,” Andereck said. “Next time they will often try off-the-beaten-path destinations. Tribal attractions tend to be like this.

AIANTA Program Development Director Hannah Peterson said it was critical for ASU to tailor a program specifically to their needs.

“The conversation we’ve had with ASU is that it’s not about sustainable tourism, period, it’s about sustainable tourism for the development of cultural tourism for Indigenous communities in the United States,” Peterson said. . “It’s different than teaching a general audience.”

AIANTA members already had access to an internationally oriented cultural tourism certificate program, but they needed more information on sustainable tourism, a topic that ASU has studied in depth, Rupert said.

The organization asked ASU to develop a program

“We really wanted to grow our certificate programs and knew that ASU had a sustainable tourism program, where my husband is in the master’s program. We know ASU is a great school,” Rupert said. “We provide learning opportunities in the tourism industry and across Indian Country. We provide resources to tribes across the country to help them succeed in the tourism industry.

A significant number of non-Indigenous people also participate in certificate programs, she said.

AIANTA members who connect to the program include both tribal employees and native small business owners, Rupert said. Tourism practitioners and state and federal government personnel working in tourism also seek training to better learn how to interact with tribal communities.

Unlike promoters in the tourism industry who do not operate on tribal lands, those in Indian Country tourism do not always have access to promotional revenue from state taxes on hotel room rentals, said Rupert. Tribes that levy room taxes often spend the revenue on vital services such as public safety, health care and education, leaving little — sometimes nothing — to fund tourism.

One of AIANTA’s core missions is to advocate on behalf of tribes and Indigenous-owned businesses to experience more inclusion and equity in the tourism industry, Rupert said.

Rupert said it was important for his organization to have partners like ASU to help them increase the number of tourism professionals in Indian Country.

A spring 2019 AIANTA report, “State of Tourism in Indian Countries“, surveyed more than 3,000 tribal tourism businesses and indigenous-owned businesses in AIANTA’s proprietary database. The report indicates that 28% of respondents said they had more than 10 full-time employees, while 37% said they employed one to three full-time workers.

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