By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
We hear it all the time – mostly about our history, culture and people. We have pride in who we are and what has made us the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. We are protective of our identity.
One of the sources of our pride is the history of the Cherokee people to adapt, survive and thrive. Early indigenous inhabitants of this land were expert at making contact with other cultures, identifying the best qualities of those cultures and incorporating their best practices into our culture and community, adapting to whatever would make us better into our everyday lives.
In the tourism department of the Tribe, now called “Destination Marketing”, the leadership and staff are charged with selling the masses but not selling out our culture and history. Compelling the traveling public to come and enjoy a close encounter with the members of our Tribe is a balancing act; giving them an intimate experience with the culture, but helping them understand the uniqueness and separation of being a tribal member.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians history is in its people, who embody the lifestyle, arts, crafts, medicines, clothing, dances, songs and cuisine of an 11,000- year-old race. Translating all of that into a marketable product while maintaining the dignity of our people is the job of our Destination Marketing program.
The program works with the businesses and organizations on the Boundary, as well as experts in the fields of social media, public relations and marketing to ensure that every penny provided by the Tribal Council, Executive Office, Cherokee Preservation Foundation and event sponsors, is efficiently and effectively used for the purpose of drawing the attention of vacationers to stay and play on the Qualla Boundary. The more people we get to stay with us, whether it is a few hours or a few days, the more our economy grows and the better we are able to provide services to our community.
That is something that sometimes gets lost when it comes to explaining economic development projects, like the efforts of the tourism arm of the Tribe. In order to fund great, important, and necessary programs, like medical, educational, and housing services, we must generate funding. The more tourists that come to Cherokee to spend money to have a good time in Cherokee, the more community services can be provided.
The same is true of creating industrial and retail development projects and implementing them on the Boundary.
I recently had the opportunity to hear George Zimmermann, who was the architect of the state of Michigan’s tourism efforts. In 2001, the state was spending less than $6 million on tourism marketing and was seeing little return on its investment. Zimmermann revitalized the state’s marketing campaign, a drive that he labeled “Pure Michigan”. With focus and innovation under Zimmermann’s leadership, the state now uses the tourism authorities not only for tourism promotion, but for its economic development efforts.
Mark Sanchez, from www.mibiz.com, said, “Since 2006, the state has spent $83.0 million on tourism promotion using the Pure Michigan brand, generating 18.3 million trips, $5.33 billion in new visitor spending, and $373.7 million in state tax revenue.”
At the conference, Zimmermann stated that tourism, as an economic engine, is typically underfunded in municipalities. Legislators often fail to see the benefit in investing in tourism development.
We are enjoying a time of prosperity and growth in the economy of the Tribe. Investments in our gaming operations continue to show dividends. But, even the Tribal Council and Executive Office have both acknowledged that threats to that industry are looming. We need more ways to generate revenue. When the Cherokee people experienced windfalls in the past, we have been prudent to reinvest them back into those community projects that mean our children to our elders are provided for by finding and implementing viable retail opportunities, manufacturing, or some other opportunity yet to be explored. Let’s not wait until those around us in surrounding counties and states force us to do something about it.