AIANTA’s Tourism Industry Leaders Power Forward

With six museums, two welcome centers, and various retail spaces, AIANTA recognized Cherokee Nation as the Tribal Destination of the Year. One of the Nation’s many attractions is the Cherokee National History Museum, pictured here. (Courtesy Cherokee Nation)

The pandemic may have temporarily brought tourism operations across Tribal Nations to a standstill, but venues have reopened with safety measures in place, and Tribes are preparing for a resurgence when the dust settles. Initially, things may look different. In an economic impact study released last year, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) noted that Tribal tourism enterprises welcome visitors from a variety of international markets. More than one third (34%) of Tribal tourism operations indicated Germany as a top inbound market, followed by China (28%) and Canada (24%). Now, domestic travel is increasing through road trips, and that may bode well for Indian Country. 

Take the Cherokee Nation, for instance. The Tribe’s cultural tourism sites reopened to the public on August 5 with limited occupancy, enhanced cleaning and sanitization, as well as a brief health screening and non-invasive temperature check for guests. 

AIANTA recently hosted the 22nd Annual American Indian Tourism Conference — virtually for the first time ever. The association issued awards to Tribal Nations and Tribal businesses that are demonstrating excellence in the tourism industry. Cherokee Nation, Arizona Indian Festival, Linda Taylor (Cherokee Nation) and Bonnie Sprague (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe) took the top tourism industry honors from the association dedicated to advancing Indian Country tourism.

With six museums, including the Cherokee National History Museum, which opened in 2019, two welcome centers and various retail locations, Cherokee Nation nabbed the 2020 Tribal Destination of the Year by AIANTA at its annual Enough Good People Industry Awards program. Cherokee Nation also earned the top spot in Excellence in Customer Service, which was awarded to Linda Taylor, who has helped manage Cherokee Nation Business’ cultural destinations, including the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop, for nearly three decades.

“We are delighted to recognize Cherokee Nation as the Tribal Destination of the Year,” said Sherry L. Rupert, CEO of AIANTA. “Cherokee Nation has been a great partner to AIANTA and serves as an example to all Tribal nations on how to encourage prosperity and growth through the perpetuation of culture.”

“American Indian culture has always been the cornerstone for tourism in our state and our region, and we, at Cherokee Nation, have worked hard to help champion those efforts,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Over the past decade, Cherokee Nation’s preservation efforts have led to an extraordinary collection of attractions that authentically tell the Cherokee story. Through these sites, we’re able to share that story with hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe each year, who are eager for the engaging experience that is found when you visit Cherokee Nation.”

The Arizona Indian Festival earned the Best Cultural Heritage Experience award. The inter-tribal event features traditional dwellings, songs and dances, as well as storytelling, native foods and arts and crafts demonstrations.

The Industry Professional of the Year was awarded to Bonnie Sprague (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe), the general manager of the Soaring Eagle Waterpark. Sprague has earned a long line of customer service awards during her career, including the Outstanding Citizen of the Year award from Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. The Industry Professional of the Year award has recognized a tourism champion since 2012.

“All of our awardees and nominees personify the amazing work being done to promote cultural heritage tourism in Indian Country and we congratulate them all,” Rupert stated.