John Stearns and Hal Mattern
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 9, 2003 12:00 AM

Arizona marketers realize they have a rich menu of Native American, Spanish and Western culture, heritage and history to feed visitors but face challenges selling it.

"Tourism is an ever-evolving industry," said Margie Emmermann, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism.

"There was a period of time when resorts were at the forefront of tourism here. But there are other things that we also need to focus on. We need to say we have resorts, plus. From a cultural perspective, we have to stop and figure out how we add that extra experience."

With more people seeking trips closer to home and that offer connections to a place's roots after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, cultural-heritage-historical tourism is gaining attention as an important driver for destinations and states like Arizona, whose economies rely heavily on tourism.

New Mexico considers Indian tourism a large component of that state's $3.7 billion tourism industry, Monica Abeita, Indian Tourism Program manager for the New Mexico Department of Tourism, said Tuesday. She made her remarks at a cultural tourism seminar at the National Indian Gaming Association's 12th annual Membership Meeting and Trade Show at Phoenix Civic Plaza.

New Mexico is trying to improve its partnership with tribes, including a mandate from the governor to aggressively promote the state's Indian casinos, she said. New Mexico has realized that visitors spending money on the reservations are likely to spend it elsewhere as well.

Arizona's Indian tribes and culture seem natural attractions to market, but the physical amenities that tourists want, such as hotels and restaurants, aren't readily available at many Indian sites, said Pam Hait, a Phoenix marketing executive who is active in Indian and tourism campaigns and is a former state tourism official.

"There aren't the places to stay; it's been harder to put together an Indian experience," she said.

Luring tourists isn't without its drawbacks, speakers said at Tuesday's gaming association seminar.

"There's no such thing as no-impact tourism," Matt Robinson, principal of Klas Robinson Hospitality Consulting, told listeners about the social, environmental and other effects on tribal lands.

At the same time, there are opportunities for tribes and states to benefit from tourism that is properly managed and marketed, speakers said.

"We have a number of opportunities, I think, to capitalize on tourism," said Edward Hall of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Division of Transportation.

It's a chance to generate jobs and money but also showcase tribes' culture to non-Natives in a positive way, Hall said.

Ivan Makil, past president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community that operates Casino Arizona, said any efforts to market Indian culture must be a partnership between the tribes and state.

The tribes know best what they want to share or not share with the public, he said.

Mike Finney of the Northern Arizona Marketing Coalition said one reason tourism programs have been slow to develop on reservations is that Native American communities are concerned about the effect of tourism on their

"There have been fledgling attempts to develop significant tourism programs," he said. "But the first step is for the individual communities to answer the question, 'Is tourism a good thing, beneficial to the current culture?' In some areas the answer is yes, while in other areas it is no. They have to sort through that first."

Finney said that Arizona's Old West heritage has always been a major tourist attraction and remains that way today. Many of those attractions are in southern Arizona, including Tombstone, the Old Tucson movie studios and several dude ranches.

"There is a high level of awareness of the Old West heritage, especially internationally," he said. "It's still quite popular."

The Tucson area also is more widely associated with Hispanic culture, Finney said. "There is a general awareness of a sharing of a culture there that you don't see in Phoenix," he said.

Emmermann said that by promoting cultural and historical attractions, Arizona could attract "high value" visitors. "It isn't a matter of
re-creating anything but of repackaging what we already have," Emmermann said.