Tomorrow, at the 20th annual American Indian Tourism Conference (AITC), Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, will sign an historic Memorandum of Understanding naming the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) as the national facilitator to carry out the NATIVE Act. Joining Sweeney at the MOU signing will be Mike Platt, Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Commerce, and Camille Ferguson, Executive Director of AIANTA.
More than 300 tribal and non-Native American tourism officials and professionals will be present for tomorrow’s momentous signing at AIANTA’s 20th AITC event, themed: 20 years of Tribal Tourism Development – Then and Now. The milestone conference runs September 17-20, 2018, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Read Native Business Magazine’s article “AIANTA to Celebrate Two Decades of Tourism Growth Across Indian Country.”)
A vibrant audience will witness the occasion. Tuesday, September 18, marks Regalia Day, a day when conference attendees are encouraged to wear traditional clothing representing their tribal affiliation. More than 100 tribes will be represented.
AIANTA will now serve as the national nonprofit association charged with facilitating provisions of the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act on behalf of the federal government.
The ultimate goal of the NATIVE Act is to strengthen and improve self-determination and self-governance capabilities in the Native American community. The NATIVE Act enhances the financial means of Native communities to protect cultural resources and preserve natural landscapes. It also empowers Native Americans to tell their own stories, and define the scope of tourism activities on tribal lands and across the U.S. The NATIVE ACT also increases coordination and collaboration between federal tourism assets to support Native American tourism and the development of technologically innovative projects.
AIANTA offered an overview of the current state of tourism across the U.S. and Indian Country, which the NATIVE Act stands to enhance:
- Tourism is actually America’s number one service export. According to the U.S. Travel Association, domestic and international travelers spent $1,036 billion dollars in the U.S. in 2017, creating 8.8 million jobs and generating $165 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.
- Domestic travelers spent $880 billion (a 5.2 percent increase over 2016) and international visitors spent $156 billion in the U.S. (roughly the same as 2016).
- In 2016, approximately 1.96 million overseas travelers visited Indian Country. The increase in travelers to Indian Country accounted for more than 41,000 new U.S. jobs in 2016. That number reflects a 180 percent increase in overseas visitors since 2007, when AIANTA began its international outreach efforts.
- According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, overseas travelers to Indian Country, a subset of travelers know as Cultural Heritage Travelers, have a far greater impact on the U.S. economy than overseas visitors as a whole. They stay longer— an average of 30 days compared to 18 days for all overseas visitors. They visit more states— an average of 2.4 states compared to 1.5 for all overseas visitors. They visit more destinations— an average of 3.6 cities compared to 2 cities for all overseas visitors. They visit more National Parks, small towns, historical locations, art galleries and museums, fine dining establishments, and cultural, ethnic and heritage sites compared to all overseas visitors.