By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Qualla Boundary has been a tourist attraction since before the 1950s when it became our primary source of income. Our land and people have been the object of curiosity seekers for decades, even as much as a century. We are a unique people among peoples. Tourists recognize that from across the country and around the globe.
For those many decades, we have provided the public with showcases of our history and culture including: “Unto These Hills” Outdoor Drama, Oconaluftee Indian Village, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and the Qualla Arts and Crafts Cooperative. These great creations provided hundreds of thousands of seekers an authentic education into the ancient Cherokee people. These attractions put many people to work and provided outlets for artisans and crafters to show their talent and sell their wares.
In addition to the authentic, there was also the not-so-authentic “chiefing” and dancing platforms throughout town. Those outside Indian Country conceived their perceptions of Indians from those featured in Western movies where full-length feather head dresses, fancy dances and tipis were commonplace. So, the Cherokee people accommodated that perception in order to draw people to Cherokee. And, they came in good numbers.
As time progressed, traffic to the cultural attractions declined and fewer people came to watch the roadside shows. The tourists wanted something more and new.
As the Tribe has grown and prospered with our gaming enterprise, new and more sophisticated plans for promoting Cherokee have been attempted. The Travel and Tourism Program (now called Destination Marketing) created an outreach, or marketing, plan and began to create new short-term attractions or special events to promote the culture and attract as diverse a group of tourists as possible.
Adult gaming has become our number one industry by far, but tourism is still our secondary source of revenue, creating jobs, and levy and privilege taxes for the community’s use. And, as we consider the future of the Tribe, we must prepare for every eventuality possible. Our experts in commerce have long stated that we need to develop an economy with diversity in revenue generation and provide additional culturally-themed attractions. Special events, while well planned and executed by the Tribal Fairgrounds and Special Events staff, have had limited effectiveness at generating traffic and overnight stays.
Efforts by Tribal Council to regulate both retail outdoor signage and structures and the Executive Office’s commitment of resources to enhancing Cherokee’s curb appeal through roadside cleanup initiatives and the overhaul of the Veterans Memorial Park have had positive impact on the attractiveness of the Qualla Boundary. Erosion prevention and landscaping have enhanced the beauty of our Oconaluftee Island Park. Fish and Wildlife Management polices the 30 miles of pristine tribal waters that attract many to our land. There are efforts to preserve the natural beauty of the Boundary and add to our tourism appeal.
As we continue to grow in population and need, we will continue to need additional monetary resources and with increasing competitive threats to our gaming enterprises, we need to be moving forward quickly and efficiently on developing ever more attractive incentives for our tourists, our clients, to continue to come to Cherokee for their recreation, education and business ventures.
Tribal Council and the Executive Office have some impressive ideas on the table to enhance existing attractions and create new ones. Currently under consideration are an Adventure Park, Data Center and three retail development projects that would bring high quality vendors of clothing, food and accessories to the Boundary. Each of these projects has the potential to bring jobs and money into our economy. Some will be adjacent to gaming and leverage the traffic that the casinos generate to sustain these new businesses. Other opportunities will be separate and self-sustaining. But, all will make our community more attractive to our potential clients and tourists.
Our governmental leadership has done a good job with keeping us on solid financial ground. As the challenges to our current revenue stream mount, let’s encourage our leadership to seek all available avenues for our economic development.