Travel Spotlight on the Yavapai Nation's Fort McDowell
Octogenarian Clinton Pattea has vivid memories of his childhood growing up on 25,000 acres of Arizona desert that rose to meet 7,000-foot-tall mountain peaks in Yavapai Nation country: “Our homes had dirt floors and no water or electricity --- just the bare necessities --- but as long as we had enough to eat, we were happy raising our crops and cattle.”
Today that same man, now Dr. Pattea, President of the Yavapai tribe (a tribal leader off and on for four decades) has plenty to be happy about as he surveys a growing empire being promoted as Destination Fort McDowell --- from the 247-room (all non-smoking) Radisson Resort with its 25,000 square foot Conference Center to Arizona’s original casino offering 900 of ‘the valley’s hottest slots’ to dining experiences in 8 restaurants and pampering at the Amethyst Spa.
Guests also choose from fresh air options like the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club’s two 18-hole courses, boating on the Verde River that flows through the reservation, horseback riding, a 150-space Eagle View RV Resort, and Fort McDowell Adventures, an outdoor party venue where visitors get treated to a true ‘Wild West’ experience.
“The elders were satisfied with what they had, but we needed to look forward to how we would survive as a community, what we were going to do for our children and grandchildren,” Pattea said. None-the-less, developments of this magnitude were scary.
“We didn’t know anything about hospitality services, but we wanted to build something we could be proud of. We didn’t rush into anything. We began with a bingo hall and started saving our income for expansion, basing our growth on actual revenue generation. We planned our moves and took things step-by-step so members could take part in it because everyone owns a piece of it. Everything we’ve built here, from the resort and casino to a tribal gas station, has been constructed as a money-making property.”
And it has done well from the start. President Pattea acknowledges that prior to the recent economic downturn, total tribal operations were bringing in over $100 million a year. (The tribe also generates revenue at another enterprise, Radisson Poco Diablo Resort in Sedona, Arizona).
Craig Benell coordinates sales activity at the resort, but he also functions in the capacity of Director of Revenue Generation and that includes a lot of promotion. “It’s all about branding. Otherwise we’d just be a Radisson on the highway,” he says. “Our destination committee is a collective effort at taking all our enterprises and making a miniature office of tourism/convention bureau, working together to get the message out that ‘we’re the destination without the travel’ and ‘we’re on the adventure side of Scottsdale’.”
Located adjacent to a monied retirement community, Benell says his facility can boast that no matter which way you turn, you can get the real Arizona experience.
“The hotel, the casino, the golf course and our other amenities offer a natural synergy, especially for Europeans and Canadians interested in leaving colder climes to play golf under winter sunshine. The course gets the rounds, we get the rooms, spouses get to use the spa, the casino gets the gaming crowd and everybody has to eat.”
Benell says his site can do a lot of things that other facilities can’t. “Our parking lot is huge and I look at it as another 360,000 square feet of meeting space. Where else can you put big rig trucks and hundreds of motorcycles for a convention? We’ve even gotten tribal permission for one convention to bring in excavation equipment to demonstrate how to dig holes in the ground, and you can’t do that at other resort hotels in Scottsdale.
“We host large motorcoach tours from Europe where visitors want their chuck wagon dining under the stars accompanied by a Native American element --- storytelling and hoop or spirit dancers. We’ll have 50-100 people per bus tour that go back to Switzerland, Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom and tell their story, and it just builds its own momentum.”
The hotel opened in 2005 and according to the sales manager: “We’ve been blessed by the tribe in that they really invest in the property. We’re still a relatively new facility, always updating, remodeling, and refreshing things like room fixtures and new high definition televisions. We’ve done well with our projections over the past 5 years and we’ve won a 4 Diamond award every year.”
Benell says his occupancy rate is a proprietary figure, but “we do really well in competing with all major resorts in Scottsdale,” and he acknowledges that recent regional resort arrivals like Talking Stick and Wild Horse Pass have caused Radisson Fort McDowell to sharpen their game.
Asked how important the collective facilities and services are to the tribe as a revenue generator, he notes: “It’s huge. We are their enterprises, here to bring both people and dollars to the area while still keeping the integrity of the people, the land, the culture, and the spirit intact.”
To which President Pattea quietly adds: “Our tribal council understands the need to do things correctly and to work together. There’s strength in unity and you move forward faster by joining hands.”