Courtesy Arizona Office of Tourism

This Is the Typical Tribal Tourist in Arizona

Lee Allen

Whether it's back-packing the Grand Canyon to Havasupai Falls, taking a jeep tour of Canyon de Chelly, mountain biking through the White Mountains, or visiting the museums of Indian country, tourists to Native Arizona are interested in experiencing the diverse cultures of the state's many Indian cultures.

Arizona is home to 22 unique American Indian tribes with time-honored traditions and various ways of cultural and artistic expression.

When last surveyed a decade ago, visitors were credited with generating an economic impact of nearly $400 million worth of direct and indirect spending. More than half that revenue figure was attributed to general sightseeing.

It’s taken 10 years, but a new Survey of Visitors to Arizona’s Tribal Lands is about to be released by the Arizona Office of Tourism, a re-examination of  visitor data from eight of those tribes presented in aggregate for all tribes—rural and metro.

Five were categorized as rural (White Mountain Apache; San Carlos Apache; Hopi; Colorado River, and Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise) while three (Fort McDowell Yavapai; Gila River, and the Tohono O’odham Nation) were placed in the metro classification.

The 2005 study provided a first-ever baseline of visitor data that showed that visitors to tribal lands in the state were slightly older, had higher annual incomes, stayed longer, and had higher daily expenditures (lodging, entertainment, shopping) than did Arizona visitors in general.

The current study found that visitors to rural and metro tribes were similar in many ways: they primarily travel in two-person parties, they are generally family members; they use private vehicles as a travel mode; they engage in similar sightseeing/cultural/heritage/shopping activities, and they report relatively high satisfaction levels.

The new study also found some significant differences: travel parties to rural tribes contained more children with a higher number of repeat visitors. They were more likely to engage in recreation and outdoor activities, stay longer, and spend more. Visitors to metro tribes were a bit older and visited as one stop on a longer trip.

Average party size for visitors to both rural and metro tribes was about 3 ½ persons with male travelers dominating the rural sample (50.5 percent) while female respondents (65 percent) dominated the metro sample. Visitor household incomes were roughly $70,000. Visits to rural tribes averaged six days while metro tribe visitations averaged four days.

In sharp contrast to patterns for the U.S. travel industry in general, few visitors to either rural or metro tribes used either the Internet or specific tribal websites as a source of information. “This indicates a dramatic need on the part of all tribes to improve their travel websites,” according to the Arizona Hospitality Research and Resource Center at Northern Arizona University that conducted the survey.

“We conducted the Tribal Visitor Study to better understand how to market more effectively to travelers wanting to experience tribal culture and attractions throughout our state,” according to Arizona Office of Tourism Director Debbie Johnson. “We know tribal destinations are a major draw and what we hope to gain from this study is a better understanding of the amount of visitation to attractions and what types of activities visitors most enjoy. The final version of the study will be released in the next few months and the data will be shared with tribes to determine how we can all work together to market our American Indian destinations.”

According to, “Tourism and prosperity go hand-in-hand. Tourism brings prosperity to host communities, stimulating local economies by providing employment, improving facilities and services for Natives, and generally enhancing their welfare.”

Recognizing that economic impact of tourism on tribal lands, Indian businesses and professionals organized the non-profit Arizona American Indian Tourism Association (AAITA) in 1994 to “help develop and promote Indian Tourism in Arizona while respecting the cultural integrity of the tribes.”

“We seek updated tourism data with respect to Arizona’s tribal communities,” says AAITA President Donovan Hanley (Navajo). “New visitor data helps us in the category of tourism education where we can see who is visiting and what they are interested in to guide tribal destinations in filling these needs. We look to one another to see opportunities where we can help each other and improve the overall Southwest visitor experience. This new survey will be a useful marketing tool for all of us because getting to know our visitors will make us stronger in our presentation and delivery.”

Hanley says: “Arizona Indian Country is like no other,” and the webpage agrees—“The  human experience, occupation, and industry in what is now Arizona can be traced back at least 12,000 years with the earliest occupants being ancestral Puebloans, Hohokam, Mogollon, and Salado peoples.”

“To Native people, this landscape is more than a Southwest destination, it’s a way of living that celebrates the many cultures and heritage found here and Native people want to share what the state has to offer,” says Hanley.

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