Lucio Rossi perches precariously on the bed of a 1970s-era Austrian army troop carrier as it bounces and rumbles through the sandy riverbed running through Canyon de Chelly, Chinle, Arizona. The photographer, who heads the Italian travel magazine Latitudes Life, was seeking the perfect shot of the striated sandstone cliff walls and lush green foliage of one of the Navajo Nation’s most iconic monuments. Rossi is one of five journalists visiting from Italy as part of the first tribal-centric press tour of Southwestern tribal communities.
The American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association, the national Native tourism organization that promotes Native visitor destinations, hosted the six-day tour that made its way through Arizona and New Mexico. AIANTA recently received an award from the International Travel Association for its cooperative marketing efforts; that award is being used to leverage efforts to reach Indian country’s largest European markets and increase tourism revenues to an estimated $10.1 billion by 2020.
AIANTA worked with Brand USA, the USA’s destination tourism marketing group, and various tribal partners to sponsor the trip. “I made the funding happen,” says Donatello Osti, a representative of the U.S. Commercial Services in Italy. “We submitted the request to Brand USA in 2016 to support the tour.”
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Osti, who accompanied the journalists, AIANTA rep Rachel Cromer and tour guides Donovan Hanley and Emerson Vallo, has worked with AIANTA since January to create the tour. “We targeted journalists who were traveling to the IPW tourism conference in Washington, D.C., June 3,” he says. “We selected top journalists who write for a range of publications,” including business-to-business, consumer and travel outlets, she says.
The reporters and photographers delved into daily life in the Navajo Nation and other tribal communities. They slept in a Navajo hogan in Monument Valley, awaking to sunrise warming the rock formations. “They got to see Monument Valley in the early-morning light that otherwise would be almost impossible to experience without staying on the valley floor,” Cromer says.
“Seeing these places with their own eyes provides a perspective that just looking at pictures can’t match,” Cromer says. Meals were served outdoors under the shadow of a sheer rock face, marked with minerals deposited from millennia of rain runoff.
Vallo shared his perspective of the lands and history of Pueblo peoples in the New Mexico portion of the trip. The tour included a tour of the Pueblo’s acclaimed “Sky City,” the original village sited high on a mesa overlooking western New Mexico. They walked the same paths as the Acoma people over nearly 1,000 years of occupancy, the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, the horses that fouled theil waterhole and the homes that endure to this day. In fact, Cromer notes, “Hearing stories about Native life directly from Native people is what appeals to European visitors.”
The tour also stopped at Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Taos Pueblo, Santa Fe museums that spotlight Native art and Buffalo Thunder Resort Casino in the Pojoaque Pueblo. AIANTA partnered with Native-owned venues and tour operators as much as possible in keeping with its mission of promoting and growing tribal tourism.
In addition to gathering rich information for their stories, the journalists also gained a new appreciation for tribal cultures and communities. Paola Baldacci, a writer for the tour operator publication Guida Viaggi, says her outlet reaches about 9,000 travel agents and group tour operators. “The opportunity to see these spaces through Indian eyes is wonderful,” she says. “It brings these places to life.”