Monday, August 17, 2009

Tribal Tourism: More or Less Like Las Vegas?

If you've been traveling around the Southwest recently, you'll have already heard about the Grand Canyon Skywalk which opened back in 2007 on the Hualapai Nation. This glass-bottomed cantilevered bridge juts out over the Grand Canyon at a head-spinning 4000ft above the Colorado River. Costing over $30 million to build, the project was bankrolled by a Las Vegas businessman, reported NPR.

Even today, tribal members don't agree on whether the Skywalk is a step forward for their nation or a disturbance of sacred ground. And if you want to visit yourself (as more than 700,000 people have already done), it's going to cost you over $70 per person. What's more, it's not as if the Hualapai Nation didn't already offer myriad (and relatively pricey) tourism opportunities for thrill-seekers, from whitewater rafting to airplane, helicopter and Hummer trips.

But building Las Vegas-style attractions in wilderness areas isn't the only answer for Southwestern tribal nations seeking to create new economic opportunities. Take, for example, the new View Hotel at Monument Valley, a Navajo tribal park. On a hilltop overlooking the valley's famous sandstone buttes and pinnacles, this low-lying structure blends harmoniously with the colors of the landscape. Ecoconscious practices that have been put into place include xeriscaping and low-flow water fixtures to conserve water, biodegradable cleaning solutions, and energy-efficient appliances, lighting, heating and cooling technology. Simple hotel rooms start at $149 per night, plus tax.

So, what's next for Native American tribal tourism in the region? More or less attractions that imitate the Strip? Don't get me wrong: I love Las Vegas, but do we need more of it all across the Southwest? Let's hope that more Native American nations find ways to preserve the natural beauty of their tribal lands while making sure that much-needed tourism dollars keep flowing into their rural communities.

Photo: Grand Canyon National Park (Michael Connolly Jr. & Sara Benson)

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