News Release

American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association

Sherry L. Rupert, the CEO of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) will testify on the vital economic importance of the tourism industry to Native American communities in front of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on May 12, 2021.

“A robust tourism industry is a powerful economic driver in Indian Country,” said Rupert. “The dramatic decline in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact throughout all tribal communities, so we are encouraged that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has invited us to testify on this economic crisis.”

In general, the travel and tourism industry in the United States generated more than $1.87 trillion in economic impact in 2019, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Additionally, tourism supports 9.2 million direct U.S. jobs and accounts for 2.8% of the entire U.S. GDP.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, two thirds of all U.S. jobs lost were supported by travel, also according to the U.S. Travel Association. In particular, the franchise lodging sector, a model frequently used by Indian Country hoteliers, lost more than 200,000 jobs last year.

Research commissioned in early 2020 by the National Indian Gaming Association found that nearly every one of the 524 Native American casinos closed last year, resulting in a loss of 296,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in lost gaming revenue.

These lost jobs and decimated gaming revenues have had a dramatic and far-reaching affect, crippling Native American economies well beyond tourism, in return devastating programs such as health and safety, infrastructure, education and food programs across the country.

More critically, programs not considered essential or lifesaving, such as cultural heritage activities, museums and cultural centers, language programs, cultural events, and even sacred observances became all but extinct in 2020 as decimated budgets were channeled into programs considered most critical.

“Nearly every tribal museum and cultural center closed last year,” said Rupert. “Not only do these facilities create jobs and generate incremental tourism revenues for local communities, but they also serve to perpetuate indigenous cultures, which are already in jeopardy of being permanently lost.”

The concern over the loss of indigenous culture is so critical, the issue has been defined by the United Nations as one of the six mandated areas of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“Congress’ interest in the continued economic growth of Native American tribes is essential for these communities,” said Rupert. “At American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, we encourage greater collaboration between Native tourism programs and federal agencies who can access funding for these programs under the Native American Tourism and Improving Visitor Experience (NATIVE) Act legislation."

In advance of Rupert’s testimony in front of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association is collecting written challenges and solutions from tribal nations, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native communities and all indigenous-owned businesses that support tourism and hospitality activities.

To submit your own findings, please contact Gail Chehak at gchehak@aianta.org by May 17, 2021.

About American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association

For more than two decades, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) has served as the national center for providing tourism and recreational travel technical assistance, training and capacity building to American Indian nations. American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association is a 501(c)(3) national nonprofit association of Native American tribes and tribal businesses and was incorporated in 2002 to advance Indian Country tourism. American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association’s mission is to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian and Alaska Native tourism that honors traditions and values. www.aianta.org.

American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, AIANTA