“It’s all about branding, otherwise we’d just be a Radisson on the highway.”

Yavapai Nation Ambitiously Rebranding Already Stellar Resort

Lee Allen

Arizona’s Yavapai Nation plans to strike out on its own after nearly 10 years in partnership with the Radisson hotel chain. Opened in 2005 as a 246-room Radisson Fort McDowell Resort Hotel, the tribe will re-launch and re-brand that property in September as the We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center.  “This isn’t a dump-the-Radisson move,” says Acting General Manager Craig Benell.  “It has always been the goal to show that the Nation can manage its own operations.”

The We-Ko-Pa (‘Four Peaks’ in Yavapai) incorporation is intended to strengthen the relationship with the tribes nearby award-winning golf courses operating under the same name. “I love the fact that we now have a Native American name, a move that shows our independence and gives us better positioning in the hotel industry.

“We chose to become an independent golf resort because it gives us flexibility to respond to guest needs as well as implement new programs, promotions, and resort enhancements,” said Benell.  “The resort is an important revenue generating enterprise for the tribe” – 950 enrolled members on a 40-square-mile reservation – “here to bring people and dollars to the area and at the same time, maintain the integrity of the people, their land, culture, and spirit.”

“We-Ko-Pa resonates deeply within our community as these peaks in the scenic mountains and along the free-flowing Verde River have spiritually been a part of us since time immemorial and are part of our Tribal seal,” according to Ruben Balderas, President of the Fort McDowell Tribal Council.  The transition goes beyond mere branding, according to the President. 

“Being sovereign is a fundamental, as is being able to exercise sovereignty over our own businesses—you cannot have one without the other.  Operating businesses on our own, in our own way, allows self- determination.  By developing business enterprises grounded in Yavapai tradition and culture, we foster well-being and happiness of our Nation’s people that, in turn, improves our business success.”

That aspect of tradition is longstanding with the Yavapai. In a previous interview, the late Dr. Clinton Pattea, tribal president over a four-decade period, told Indian Country Today: “When we initially decided to move ahead with our resort development, we didn’t know anything about hospitality services. But our council understands the need to work together and do things correctly so that everyone takes part in it and owns a piece of it – because we all benefit from it.”

The marketing back then resembled the marketing today. “It’s all about branding, otherwise we’d just be a Radisson on the highway,” Benell told Indian country. “We have 25,000 acres and, working together, we have developed quite a tourism mecca.  We-Ko-Pa golf course and the resort have natural synergies.  Visitors, including many Europeans, come here to what Golfweek has called ‘one of the best 18-hole golf facilities in the country’, so the resort benefits from a close alignment.  The course gets the visitors rounds of golf, we get their rooms, their spouses get to use spa facilities, everybody eats in the restaurant, and then gravitates to the casino.”

Council Vice President Pansy Thomas adds: “This change will provide a more favorable venue for meetings and events, a goal accomplished by maintaining control of management over all our destination enterprises.”  Pam Mott, Council Treasurer views the independent management that comes with the rebranding as a key to not only the tribe’s tourism destination success, but the success of the Nation as well.  “We are an economic engine for this area of the Valley of the Sun, employing hundreds of people, and the money earned from our enterprises goes back into the community.”

“We’re excited about the rebranding and independence of the resort,” says Matt Barr, We-Ko-Pa Golf Club General Manager. “Resort guests will now have easy access to our two courses, like the Ben Crenshaw-designed Saguaro course or the Scott Miller-designed Cholla course, and will save through new stay-and-play packages.”

The resort hotel, a 4 Diamond Triple A facility for nine years in a row, will undergo some modernization and updates while maintaining a traditional Native American design theme in guestrooms and suites. “We’re enhancing the property with an updated spa, fitness center, carpeting and landscaping, but the tribe has taken care of this property with regular improvements,” Benell said.

For further information, www.wekoparesort.com.

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