The new nativeamerica.travel website helps consumers and agents develop itineraries.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As travelers increasingly seek out cultural and educational experiences, it should come as no surprise that interest in Native American destinations and attractions has increased over the past five years, setting records in each of the last three, according to the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (Aianta).
Given the remote and far-flung locations of many native lands and cultural sites, however, planning such adventures can be a challenge.
Aianta is hoping to change that with a new website designed to help consumers and travel agents alike craft itineraries that combine Native American educational, cultural and adventure experiences with the best in native-owned hotels and resorts, tour operators, restaurants and other business.
The site, at nativeamerica.travel, is the first such comprehensive project of its kind in the U.S., offering each of the more than 500 federally and state-recognized tribes online space for showcasing their businesses and tourism offerings.
Users can search by region, experiences and destinations and access destination information as well as tools for planning trips.
Nativeamerica.travel is modeled after successful sites launched in Australia and British Columbia to promote aboriginal-focused sites and tours.
Aianta Executive Director Camille Ferguson said the goal of the website, the pilot of which was unveiled at the group's annual conference in Colorado in October, was to help tribes take advantage of the vast economic development opportunities tourism presents beyond casinos and hotels as well as to differentiate their other tourism offerings, including historical tours, adventure packages and luxury resort and meetings destinations.
"More and more people are coming and wanting more than gaming," she said.
The site, Ferguson said, will help tribes promote their historical attractions, art and museums and "portray our image as not a bygone people but people who are here today. … We want to help them perpetuate their culture, not preserve it — museums do a good job of that. We're trying to encourage tribes to tell their own stories."
Aianta and the site's developers, she said, will also provide tribes with the technical assistance and training to develop tourism. And while it is intended for tribes and native-owned businesses, tribes can use their pages to promote partnerships with non-native businesses — hotels, for example — if there are no tribal-owned accommodations around their attractions.
Users can search by region, experiences and destinations. The site also offers interactive maps and weather information.
In New Mexico, Acoma Pueblo officials say they are eager to use the site to gain new partnerships in nearby Albuquerque. They also hope to use it to overcome several identity problems, including that of differentiating their Sky City Casino along Interstate 40 from their pueblo's historic Sky City, which is built atop a sheer-walled 367-foot sandstone bluff in a valley studded with sacred, towering monoliths.
The settlement, 70 miles west of Albuquerque, is home to the Anasazi people and the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America.
Melvin Juanico, group tour director of the Sky City Cultural Center & Haak'u Museum, said he also hoped the site would help them clear up a common misperception, among international and domestic travelers alike, that the pueblo is in New Mexico, not in Mexico.
The site launched its pilot with content from 13 tribal governments: the Pueblo of Pojoaque, Fort McDowell Yavapai, Eastern Band of Cherokee, Cherokee Nation, United Houma Nation, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Standing Rock Sioux and the Pueblo of Jemez.
Nativeamerica.travel also has more than 100 listings representing many more tribal-member tourism businesses, including those from Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Pueblo of Acoma, Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Native Village of Mary's Igloo.
Users can search by region, experiences and destinations. And the site offers interactive tools, such as maps and weather information, to help in trip planning.
The site's developers will continue their outreach to gather more broad-based content from tribes and tribal-member-owned tourism enterprises, with the goal in 2016 of more than doubling the number of attractions and accommodations listings on the website and encouraging many more tribes to utilize their dedicated pages.
The website is just one of Aianta's efforts to help tribes capitalize on the growing interest in experiential travel.
With a grant from the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, it is also producing a guidebook to tell the story of tribal homelands and tribes along the route and to provide cultural context to the Route 66 story.
"With more than 27 federally recognized tribes along Route 66, we are thrilled that we will finally be able to share these under-told histories connected to the famous highway," said Virginia Salazar-Halfmoon, Aianta's public lands partnership coordinator.
Lisa Snell, owner and publisher of the Native American Times and Native Oklahoma magazine, is traveling and researching the entire Route 66 to produce the guidebook, which is expected to be released early next year.