The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association will present its 16th Annual American Indian Tourism Conference on September 14-18 at the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, Louisiana. Hosted by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, and with the theme “Introducing America’s Native Nations to the World,” the annual gathering is designed to provide attending tribes and native organizations the tools they need to develop travel and tourism initiatives at home.
The four-day conference will kick off with an opportunity to explore the culture and history of the host nation and surrounding tribes through interactive workshops with the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, the Coushatta Tribe, the Chitimacha Tribe, and the Houma Nation. From there, a high-octane lineup of leaders and experts will share their tourism knowledge, experience, and best practices, giving attendees valuable opportunities to learn more about tribal tourism and business development, tourism marketing, tribal museums and cultural centers, the international tourism market, protection of tribal intellectual and cultural property, federal resources and programs, and more.
According to Camille Ferguson, AIANTA’s executive director, one of the most valuable breakout sessions at this year’s conference will address international marketing and the international tourism market. Information from the U.S. Department of Commerce will provide the updated tourism trends for international visitors to native communities.
“This trend has steadily shown growth over the years, with definite interest in Native American culture — especially from the German and European markets,” Ferguson said. “Another highlight of the conference is the conference discussing interest in native cuisine, and how to turn culinary traditions into tourism dollars.”
Ferguson noted that native cuisine is a growing trend in the culinary industry in general, and it’s a major contributor to tourism. The conference, she said, allows attendees to learn about the initiatives being put in place to secure Native American interests in the tourism industry.
International tourism, in particular, has proven to be a challenge for many native communities. Ferguson observed that, while many tribes have developed impressive cultural tourism programs, few have captured the international market or international attention.
“AIANTA helps these tribes in providing a venue to learn and promote how to work with the international market by providing meeting-space opportunities at ITB Berlin, one of the world’s largest travel trade shows,” she said.
Monument Valley Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours, as well as the Chickasaw Nation, have experienced increased visitation by German tourists thanks to their participating in ITB Berlin. Another success story is that of the Nevada Indian Territory, which has increased interest in developing tourism venues within the State of Nevada by providing educational tourism conferences. This year, it even joined the State of Nevada in commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s China office.
“Examples like this go to show just how powerful international outreach really can be, and what an economic impact international tourism can have on tribal and native communities and destinations,” Ferguson said.
Adding more firepower to AIANTA’s mission are its strategic partners. Earlier this month, the organization announced its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Native American Rights Fund for the education and development of sustainable tribal tourism. The MOU helps establish a framework for cooperation between the two organizations in their shared interests of preserving tribal existence and protection of tribal resources. NARF is just one of AIANTA’s strategic partnerships, and these partners will have a visible presence at the September conference.
“The partnership with NARF, like all of AIANTA’s partnerships, is very important in providing resources for tribes that want to sustain their way of life and perpetuate their culture through tourism,” Ferguson said. “AIANTA creates partnerships with other entities that have the same values. One of our most important partners is the Department of the Interior, which encompasses [other] federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Additional AIANTA partners include the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Department of Land Management, among others.
Whether a tribe or tribal organization is new to the tourism arena or has an experienced tourism department, the American Indian Tourism Conference will feature something for everyone, according to Ferguson.
“AIANTA strives to inspire tribes across the nation to take advantage of the vast opportunities for economic development that cultural tourism presents,” she said. “We hope that our 16th annual AITC will further the network of resources available to tribal communities building their economic base through tourism.”
To learn more about the conference, and to take advantage of early-bird registration before August 31, visit AIANTA.org.