International and domestic tourism to Native American communities has grown exponentially since the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) launched in 1998.
This September, the nation’s only organization focused on promoting Indian Country tourism will celebrate its 20th anniversary. AIANTA will ring in this milestone at the 20th Annual American Indian Tourism Conference (AITC). This year, the event returns to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the first AITC debuted. Apropos, this year’s conference theme is “20 years of Tribal Tourism Development – Then and Now,” and it takes place September 17-20 at the stunning and newly refurbished Isleta Resort and Casino.
Over the course of 20 years, AIANTA’s has developed an experience and destinations website with more than 170 listings through its NativeAmerica.travel and aided in the passing of Native American Tourism Improving Visitor Experience or NATIVE Act, which was signed into in law in 2016. The organization has also dedicated resources to helping tribes reach international markets, which has helped grow overseas visitation to Native American communities from 693,000 in 2007 to 1.9 million in 2016, an increase of 180%.
AITC—originally a grassroots effort by the New Mexico Indian Tourism Association with partial BIA funding—has grown into a nonprofit to define, introduce, grow and sustain tourism among American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Today, AIANTA offers training, technical assistance, certifications and scholarships, and advocates on behalf of tribes on programs, policies and decision-making at regional and national levels.
“The emergence of tribal cultural tourism has provided more than a venue for tribes looking to diversify their economies, it’s created a market for global impact,” said Camille Ferguson, AIANTA Executive Director. “No other organization in the U.S. has provided the national structure for tribal tourism to flourish.”
During AITC, speakers—such as Donavan Hanley of DETOURS Native America, Catherine Prather of the National Tour Association, and Donald Leadbetter of the National Park Service—will speak about global best practices in working with the international travel industry. They’ll also touch on developing international reach for tribes beginning to form partnerships overseas.
Workshops include sessions on tribal collaborations with federal public lands, transportation, and case studies on tourism and economic development.
New workshops this year include developing RV sites and agritourism as a tool for developing tribal food sovereignty.
Another focus is tips for working with Airbnb. In a first-of-its-kind partnership with a U.S. state, Airbnb Experiences recently teamed up with the Utah Office of Tourism to offer “unique-to-Utah” experiences for tourists seeking off-the-beaten-path, authentic adventures.
In addition to the conference, AIANTA will offer mobile tours to Acoma Pueblo, Puye Cliffs and the Navajo Nation, where the host tribe will share information and provide opportunities to network and learn.
“It’s a great honor to host this prestigious event and we plan on making AIANTA’s 20th anniversary conference the best one they have ever experienced,” said Tammy Abeita, Isleta Resort & Casino Sales Manager, adding that the casino will have a traveling museum from the Pueblo of Isleta and serve traditional Pueblo foods as part of the conference. Register at www.AITC2018.com.