IGNACIO – Professionals from across the country gathered in Ignacio this week to learn about developing local tourism industries in Native American communities.
The No. 1 topic in Indian County today is how to diversify tribal economies, said Cisco Minthorn, senior advisor on Native American affairs for the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Tourism can help build a healthy economy by creating jobs, and the federal government can provide loans and grants to help start local tourism industries, he said.
“Economies built on single industries are simply not sustainable,” he told the crowd at the 17th annual American Indian Tourism Conference.
The conference, held at the Sky Ute Casino Resort, drew about 200 people from across the United States.
“Whatever your competitive advantage is, it is up to you to harness it,” Minthorn advised the crowd Tuesday.
Some tribes can be hesitant to open up their communities to tourists, said Sherry Rupert, the president of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. Her organization holds the conference each year and also works with 567 tribal nations in the United States on tourism issues.
She recommends guided tours that can help manage both the number of tourists and the places they visit.
“They still provide that experience people are seeking,” she said.
It also gives the tribes the opportunity to tell their stories and perpetuate their culture, she said.
Southern Ute tourism
A federal grant helped build the first 30-room motel and restaurant on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, said Chairman Clement Frost.
“The Southern Ute Tribe has come a long way,” he told the crowd.
The general manager of the casino, Charles Flagg, has been working to draw more people in with Internet marketing recently.
The casino signed a contract with Expedia for the last year, and offering deals online has allowed managers to keep the hotel full during summer months.
“We’ve been showing pretty good growth this year,” he said.
The RV park has seen a similar trend with more online marketing.
In some parts of the country the casino industry has been struggling, but the Sky Ute resort’s diverse offerings including concerts, bowling and mini-golf bring in people who wouldn’t normally come to gamble, Flagg said.