Last week, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) hosted the Enough Good People Awards Banquet and Silent Auction at the 18th annual American Indian Tourism Conference (AITC) in Tulalip, Washington, honoring the best tribal destinations and leaders in the tourism industry.
The proceeds raised from this annual silent auction are used to award scholarships to Native American students interested in pursuing careers in the hospitality and tourism industry and culinary arts.
Each year, AIANTA, as the national organization representing the tribal hospitality and tourism industry, recognizes the best of Indian Country travel and tourism.
The 2016 destination awards went to the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder’s Tina Whitegeese for Excellence in Customer Service; Puye Cliffs in New Mexico for Best Cultural Heritage Experience; and Icy Strait Point in Alaska took home Tribal Destination of the Year.
Along with the destination awards, AIANTA has also been honoring tribal tourism champions from across the country with the Enough Good People Award since 2012. This year, AIANTA was proud to present Chief Bill John Baker, of the Cherokee Nation with the prestigious award, recognizing his strong partnership with AIANTA and his deep commitment to the preservation and sharing of American Indian culture through tourism.
Nominees for these destination awards must meet a host of standards for each award category, while also working to advance AIANTA’s mission to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values.
The Excellence in Customer Service Award honors an individual who has provided consistent, excellent customer service during their tenure of employment or a business with a commitment to creating and providing a culture of service.
Tina Whitegeese is a member of the Pueblo of Pojoaque and shares in the stewardship of the Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder. She is an integral member of the Hilton team working in concert with the Pueblo owner to advance tourism. Tina has deep pride in helping interested travelers to Northern New Mexico learn more about her culture.
The Cultural Heritage Experience Award honors that which demonstrates authentic art, craft, food, dance, performance, demonstrations, etc. representative of a tribe or tribes.
Puye Cliff Dwellings (Puye) provides a look into the life and culture of the Santa Clara Pueblo by providing guided tours of their ancestral grounds. They have introduced to the world, their traditional dances and art of the Tewa people by educating the public of the ways of our pueblo people. Puye offers an insight to their culture by demonstrating their cultural dances and their traditional bread making techniques.
And finally, the Tribal Destination of the Year honors a destination which encompasses the following: excellent customer service, visitor friendly destination, authentic cultural heritage experience(s), and amenities for visitors.
Icy Strait Point (ISP) is Alaska’s only privately owned cruise ship destination and located in the Native Village of Hoonah. Owned by the ANCSA Village Corporation (Huna Totem), staffed by 85% local tribal members, employs 20% of local population and provides the community with not only employment opportunities and directed funds, but entrepreneurship opportunities, sales tax, and head tax. Twenty (+) tours are offered, including: Tribal Dance, Wilderness/Wildlife Discovery, World’s Longest Zipline…plus restaurants, retail, and historic landmarks. Each guest receives a one-of-a-kind experience infused with local Native culture and hospitality.
AIANTA members are encouraged to nominate tribal destinations, tribally owned businesses and enterprises, employees of tribally owned enterprises and businesses, and tribal members who best exemplify the hospitality and tourism industry.
In addition to recognizing Chief Baker of Cherokee, AIANTA honored Senator Brian Schatz of Hawa’ii late last year, who authored the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitors Experience (NATIVE) Act.