Tying tourism to American Indian tribes in Nevada could benefit both the state and tribes, said Sherry Rupert, Nevada Indian Commission executive director.
The state needs to use education, tours, art, retail sales and public displays to promote tribes in ways states such as Arizona and New Mexico already do, she said.
"As soon as you arrive in those cities, in those airports, you know there's a native presence," she said.
Rupert got the VolunTourism Award from the Nevada Commission on Tourism last week at the commission's rural tourism conference for her work on the self-guided tour of the Stewart Indian School, a former American Indian boarding school, in Carson City.
She is now working on a cultural center that will display artifacts from the school and celebrate the Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone tribes and their 27 colonies in Nevada.
Visitors, especially international tourists, are hungry to see more information and resources on the tribes, she said.
"When they come here, they just don't want to sit back and watch, they want to have an experience," she said.
Rupert helped organize an American Indian tourism conference April 27-28 to discuss ideas, but she already sees several ways to draw more visitors.
She said tribes could set up cultural centers, give tours of historic resources and bring tourists camping with them.
The state could help start a program to sell products made by American Indian artists and artisans, she said, and set up a retail space for these products at the Stewart cultural center.
She said many American Indian colonies in Nevada have trouble raising money because they are small, rural and don't get money from gaming.
Jorge Lopez, administrative officer for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, said American Indian tourism is "a wonderful idea."
Many tourists want to know more about the tribe's culture and see important sites, he said.
The Washoe Tribe has headquarters in Gardnerville and two colonies in Carson City.
City tourism director gets award
Candy Duncan, Carson City Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director, was recognized for her work along with Rupert at the rural tourism conference.
Duncan received the Statewide Excellence in Tourism Award from the Nevada Commission on Tourism for her work promoting tourism throughout the state.
She has marketed golf in both the Carson City area and Southern Nevada, found grants for many rural towns and helped organize the Save Nevada Tourism coalition to fight Gov. Jim Gibbons' proposed cuts to tourism.
Duncan said the annual rural tourism conference allowed people to exchange ideas and get motivated about tourism.
The slow economy has forced tourism supporters to focus on effective plans and fight to keep state funding, she said.
"I don't want to see the (tourism) commission so crippled by all these budget cuts," she said.
Duncan, who has directed the city visitors bureau 18 years, said the next tourism push for Carson City will be to market dining, shopping and lodging deals in Sacramento.
She said Sacramento is the closest major market and a reliable source of visitors.
The visitors bureau is also developing plans to market the city as a culinary center, she said. A "Taste of the High Sierra" theme will also allow the city to advertise other attractions like golf and outdoor activities, she said.