Daily Sitka Sentinel
The three-day conference, now in its sixth year, was founded by Sitka Tribal Enterprises with a goal of giving cultural tour operators a chance to learn, meet each other and share information, and to bring an economic boost to Sitka during the “shoulder” of the tourism season. STE worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to get the conference started, and BIA continues to help support the event.
Conference enrollment so far has already surpassed last year’s. Camille Ferguson, STE economic development director, is hoping to hit the 75 to 100 mark by Monday.
The conference each year brings in a few dozen speakers to share information on various aspects of cultural and heritage tourism, which, as the name implies, focuses on the culture and heritage of a particular destination.
STE is a prime example of this category of tourism, with their summer tours and dance shows by members of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. There are several aims of the conference, Ferguson said.
“This conference provides a venue for prospective businesses that want to expand their cultural tourism offerings, and it creates a network for bringing tourism people together,” Ferguson said.
She said the conference is especially helpful for those who want to get a cultural tourism business started in out-of-the-way places. “In rural places, you don’t have a large diversity or a large number of visitors,” Ferguson said.
Her favorite thing about the conference is the opportunity to network with others in the field.
“These are the networks that build places, and help places,” she said.
Some of the talks will be about presenting information authentically, accurately and with cultural sensitivity. One speaker will talk about protecting intellectual property rights, and others will provide tour guide and cultural host training.
One of the speakers, James Dion, is the sustainable tourism program manager for the maps division of the National Geographic Society. His work involves linking the world’s most important tourism destinations to the design capabilities of National Geographic Maps. His biography said the goal is to create innovative maps and interactive websites to increase knowledge about sustainable tourism and foster destination stewardship of cultural, historic, and natural resources.
Dion directed international ecotourism programs for conservation nonprofits in Asia and Latin America, and has run sustainable tourism businesses all over the world.
Keynote speaker, Father Michael Oleksa, is a familiar face in Sitka. His presentations address cultures and how they affect us, how our own culture focuses on certain aspects of reality and neglects others. Oleksa speaks internationally on how cultures influence the way we understand each other and how to deal with this in a reasonable and appropriate way.
Oleksa, who served three decades as a Russian Orthodox priest in more than a dozen Native villages, holds a doctorate with an emphasis in Native Alaskan history during the Alaska Russian period, 1741-1867. He will give the opening keynote address 9:45 a.m. Monday, and 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Performing artist Gene Tagaban has been invited to give a performance at the opening night reception. Tagaban comes from a mix of Tlingit, Cherokee and Filipino heritage.
Ferguson said she is interested in hearing from Carley Lawrence, who works for the advertising and communications firm Nerland Agency, and is a specialist in marketing through social media. Lawrence has worked in the marketing field for 15 years, and will offer advice on crafting messages to diverse audiences, developing and implementing multimedia communications plans and building community partnerships.
Ferguson said the conference should have broad appeal to any tourism-related business, including retailers and gift-shop owners, bed-and-breakfast operators and tour providers.
In addition to forums and lectures, the conference offers a number of opportunities to combine learning with entertainment. Tagaban’s performance is 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi. Tickets are $10 per person, or $15 for two tickets.
A whale-watching cruise and dinner is also open to the public. Tickets are $35 at Old Harbor Books, or by calling 747-7290.
Another event that Ferguson said the public should enjoy is a regalia and cultural dress show, 5 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi community house. The event is free.
Most events are at Centennial Hall. The cost of attending the full conference is $300, and single day passes can be purchased for $100. Those wanting to sign up may call 747-7290 or register online at www.tourismconference.org.