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Santa Ana Pueblo draws on cultural tourism for success

By David Collins -- The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, N.M. (MCT) - Gaming has been the centerpiece of much economic development in northern New Mexico's pueblos since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, but the largest Pueblo resort in the state doesn't have a casino inside its walls.

Capitalizing on gaming revenue, the Pueblo of Santa Ana has diversified. A focus on cultural tourism allows the very private pueblo near Rio Rancho to represent its culture to a paying clientele while using profits from tourism and gaming to preserve its Pueblo traditions.

Santa Ana's casino is two miles away from its resort, and guests can catch a shuttle to the casino if they choose to visit.

A spokesman for Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort said families make up the largest part of the resort's summertime clientele. The resort targets families with a marketing strategy that includes recreational opportunities for kids and cultural opportunities.

''That's really high as far as trends go - why people go to certain places. They want to learn something or have an experiential vacation,'' said Corrina Burns, Tamaya's marketing and public relations manager.

Burns said the state's niche market as a culturally interesting destination remains strong today and has proved to be a valuable asset for the Pueblo of Santa Ana.

''People who come to visit New Mexico are usually looking for some sort of culture anyway,'' Burns said.

Closed to the general public except on feast days, Santa Ana is among the most private of the 19 pueblos in the state. Cultural opportunities at the resort allow tourists to explore pueblo culture without traveling into the pueblo, Burns said.

The resort offers classes in pottery making and traditional outdoor bread baking.

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Pueblo members tell fireside stories and field questions about New Mexico. Visitors can opt to enjoy as much or as little of the hotel's pueblo experience as they choose, Burns said.

Because the resort's cultural activities and displays are overseen by the pueblo they reflect, the pueblo enjoys control over how its culture is represented. A pueblo cultural coordinator approves decor and cultural activities at the resort, Burns said.

''Nothing is contrived,'' she said.

Activities and features for children - including three swimming pools - have helped make families the mainstay of Tamaya's summertime business, Burns said.

When the Buffalo Thunder Resort opens with 390 rooms in about a year, it will outsize Tamaya by 40 rooms and have about three times as much convention floor space. Unlike Tamaya's business model, Buffalo Thunder will include a 151,000-square-foot casino under the same roof.

Like Tamaya, its decor will feature pueblo themes. A children's recreation area covering 8,000 square feet and an indoor swimming pool were included to appeal to families with children.

Both Santa Ana and Pojoaque use proceeds for their gaming and hospitality ventures to support cultural development within the pueblo. Burns said Santa Ana subsidizes pueblo art and language classes with resort and casino proceeds.

Funded by casino and other pueblo enterprise profits, the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum in Pojoaque offers studio space to any American Indian alongside a pueblo-sponsored public gallery and a diorama that traces thousands of years of pueblo culture.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Santa Fe New Mexican. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.