Among all the very big mergers and acquisitions in the travel industry recently (and big rumors about pending announcements), it would be easy to overlook a less-publicized deal: the takeover of Hard Rock International by the Seminole Tribe of Florida earlier this month.

It wasn't underplayed in the trade press due to any lack of effort on the part of the public relations companies hired to handle the announcement. "NATIVE AMERICANS TO SHOCK BUSINESS WORLD," trumpeted the subject line of an e-mail announcing a press conference. Without giving any clues about how the shock might be administered, the release said only that the upcoming development would "make history."

As it turned out, Hard Rock's seller, U.K.-based Rank Group, made its announcement before markets opened in its own time zone, and details about the sale were already in my e-mail inbox hours before the Seminole event began at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square.

And what a press conference it was. It opened with a blessing from a medicine man in traditional garb. (Hands down, his attire drew more attention than any of the flamboyant rock-star wear in the Hard Rock's display cases.) While ultimately the event may be more historic for the Seminoles than for the business world in general, details that emerged during the conference demonstrated the extent of the tribe's (and other tribes') involvement in tourism-related businesses.

Consider for a moment this claim by James Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, whose previous casino experience was with Trump, Hilton and Park Place Entertainment: "Las Vegas gaming amounts to $5 billion a year; Indians' total is $22 billion."

That's not to say that Native American casinos in aggregate have more economic impact than Las Vegas' tourism industry in aggregate; Allen's statement may reveal as much about Las Vegas' diversity as it does about Native American focus. But other data points show that the Seminoles not only may be the most experienced tribe in gaming -- they were the first to open a casino -- they may also be the savviest.

How savvy? Consider: In total, Hard Rock International operates 124 restaurants and seven hotels in addition to retail shops, online ventures and concert venues. It posted annual revenue of $493 million and net income of $68 million. Though the Seminoles own and operate only two of their casino-hotels, those two alone accounted for 25% of Hard Rock's total global profit last year.

The physical contrast between the Native Americans at the dais and the gaming and Hard Rock executives couldn't have been more different.

The Native Americans, when they spoke, were reflective, putting the deal in the larger context of Seminole history.

Allen and the other suits were clearly excited. They talked faster, louder and (figuratively and literally) at a higher pitch.

Which led me to wonder: Are we about to witness the ultimate corporate culture clash?

On the surface, the reflective Native Americans and the independent-minded sensibility of Hard Rock might seem in conflict.

The Seminoles spent a fair portion of their presentation educating the audience of journalists about Seminole history. At the time, I thought it a bit odd, but later I concluded that there were some important messages in there, perhaps directed as much to Hard Rock's current management as to the reporters.

"We never signed a peace treaty or surrendered," Max Osceola Jr., of the tribe's Hollywood (Fla.) reservation, said pointedly. "Now we're looking beyond our borders, beyond our corner of the world.

"The Indians sold Manhattan for a few trinkets," he continued. "We're buying it back, one hamburger at a time."

It will be fascinating to watch what happens when the unconquered meet the independent-minded. I'm beginning to think they might not be as far apart as one would first suppose.


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