Cherokee Nation Says Osiyo to Visitors
Strategy: Collaborate in New Ways, Focus on Customer Potential, Know Your Customer/Product, Take Advantage of Tech
Type of attraction: Tourism Organization
Summary: The unique culture and heritage of the Cherokee Nation is woven throughout a 14-county jurisdictional area in northeastern Oklahoma.
The unique culture and heritage of the Cherokee Nation is woven throughout a 14-county jurisdictional area in northeastern Oklahoma, encompassing stories of hardship, heartache, perseverance, celebration and achievements of the Cherokee people.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith saw that although there were many places where these stories could be told there was not a group dedicated to bringing partners together to preserve the places and tell the stories. It was this vision that sparked the formation of the Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism Group and creation of a successful cultural tourism program.
The plan emerged from a year-long research process that identified six areas of focus:
- Resources – historic, cultural, recreation and natural
- Marketing – demographics, programming, branding, advertising,
- Economic Development – financial analysis and economic development
- Community – stakeholders, partners and staff
- Interpretation – stories, education, exhibits, programs
- Site Planning – aligning resources, programs, interpretation and infrastructure
Preservation of cultural and heritage sites is a top priority. Most recently, the 1844 Cherokee Supreme Court building – the oldest government building in Oklahoma - was restored and now houses exhibits on the Cherokee judicial system, language and newspapers. The museum features numerous photos and artifacts including the printing press of the Cherokee Advocate, the official newspaper of the Cherokee nation and the first newspaper in Oklahoma. Next to be restored are the Cherokee National Capitol and the Cherokee National Prison.
These sites and others are included in four historical tours. During the planning phase, tours were tested with pilot groups to determine which would be most popular with visitors. Taking the time for a planning process has resulted in a successful tour program with 1,700 people taking a tour in the program’s first year. Tour themes include Cherokee History Tour, Cherokee Old Settler Tour, Civil War History Tour and Will Rogers History Tour. Tour guides are well-versed in Cherokee history, educating and entertaining visitors as they stop at sites along the routes. Tours are promoted to motorcoach groups as well as being offered every Saturday for the general public.
Reaching out to potential visitors is the goal of the marketing campaign. Says Travis Owens, senior project manager, “Right now we are focusing on regional tourism. In five to ten years, we hope that Oklahoma and Indian tourism will become an international tourism destination. “
The campaign’s main message is “Osiyo: Cherokees say hello like no one else.” Additional messages highlight the achievements of the Cherokees such as printing the first Native American bilingual newspaper, establishing the first institute for higher learning for women west of the Mississippi and creation of the first written Native American language.
A variety of marketing strategies are used including radio, television and print media. A Facebook page provides regular updates and interactive activities like “Trivia Tuesdays” where fans are invited to learn facts about Cherokee history.
Ultimately, the cultural tourism program is designed to economically benefit the program’s many partners which include museums, downtown associations, cultural and historic attractions and others by attracting visitors and directing them to attractions, events, lodging, dining and shopping experiences – particularly those owned by Cherokees – that they can enjoy northeastern Oklahoma. “The important part is partnerships.” Owens notes.