ASU developing sustainable tourism training curriculum for tribal lands

Promoting travel poses challenges not often experienced in non-Native tourism, professor says

June 13, 2022

Unlike those who work in retail or restaurants, tourism professionals not only need to interest people in their product; sometimes they have to convince them to travel a long distance for it.

And if they happen to be Indigenous peoples eager to welcome visitors to tribal lands, they may be further challenged to successfully attract audiences to places that are often more difficult to reach than those near major infrastructure and transportation corridors. A desert sunset with flowers in the foreground. Photo by iStock Download Full Image

Even travelers to relatively remote, yet well-attended sites, such as the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, may not learn about how Native culture and tradition are infused in stories whispered for centuries among the ancient rock formations.

To help promoters on tribal lands gain greater insights into sustainable tourism options, the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) asked faculty from the Arizona State University School of Community Resources and Development to develop a curriculum in sustainable tourism specifically for those working to promote visits to tribal lands.

Sherry Rupert (Paiute/Washoe), AIANTA’s chief executive officer, said visitors to many major attractions often miss the richness that Indigenous culture adds to that experience.

“Even if you have gone to iconic places like Grand Canyon, for example, you haven’t really experienced it until you’ve spoken with Native people from the 11 tribes of the Grand Canyon to tell you about their connection to that place, how they survived there, stories passed down from generation to generation,” she said.

Professor Kathleen Andereck said her team is developing a sustainable tourism curriculum that will debut in spring 2023. Its seven modules are each specifically tailored to tribal communities and nations, using case studies and examples of sustainable tourism already found in these locations.

The program awards a non-credit certificate. It also may be taken for one credit in tourism and recreation management from ASU.

Fewer staff members hamper tribes’ tourism push

Tribal communities and nations can have more challenges finding business than others in tourism do, Andereck said. Sometimes infrastructure and access issues, as well as the fact that tribes often have fewer staff members involved in promoting tourism, present obstacles beyond what many others in tourism experience.

“Everyone knows Monument Valley, but there are other opportunities on tribal land for tourist experiences,” Andereck said. “Not all tribes have the same level of development as others, and roads and infrastructure differ, and it can be a bit limiting for tourism. Sometimes there are different levels of expertise in tourism in different tribes.”

Andereck said the curriculum is designed to help those working in tribal tourism promote the fascinating Indigenous cultural aspects of many tourist destinations, especially ones on tribal lands often not generally known to the traveling public.

“Frequently, the first time that people go somewhere, they visit the more iconic attractions,” Andereck said. “The next time they will often try the off-the-beaten track destinations. Tribal attractions tend to be of this kind.”

AIANTA Program Development Director Hannah Peterson said it was critical for ASU to tailor a curriculum specifically to their needs.

“The conversation we had with ASU is that it’s not sustainable tourism, period, but sustainable tourism for cultural tourism development for Native communities in the U.S.,” Peterson said. “That’s different than teaching a general audience.”

AIANTA members already had access to a certificate program in cultural tourism with an international focus, but they needed more information on sustainable tourism, a subject ASU has thoroughly researched, Rupert said.

Organization sought ASU to develop program

“We wanted to really grow our certificate programs and knew ASU has a sustainable tourism program, where my husband is in the master’s program. We know that ASU is a great school,” Rupert said. “We are providing opportunities for learning in the tourism industry and across Indian Country. We provide resources to tribes across the nation to help them be successful in the tourism industry.”

A significant number of non-Native people participate in the certificate programs as well, she said.

AIANTA members who connect with the curriculum include both tribal employees and Native small business owners, Rupert said. Tourism practitioners and state and federal staff working in tourism also seek training to better learn how to engage with tribal communities.

Unlike tourism industry promoters in non-Native communities, those in tourism on tribal lands do not always have access to promotional revenue from state taxes on hotel room rentals, Rupert said. Tribes that levy room taxes often spend the revenue on vital services such as public safety, health care and education, leaving little — sometimes nothing — to fund tourism.

One of AIANTA’s main missions is to advocate on behalf of tribes and Native-owned businesses to experience more inclusion and equity in the tourism industry, Rupert said.

Rupert said it is important for her organization to have partners like ASU to help them grow the number of tourism professionals on tribal lands.

A spring 2019 AIANTA report, "State of Indian Country Tourism," surveyed more than 3,000 tribal tourism enterprises and Native-owned businesses in AIANTA’s proprietary database. The report stated that 28% of respondents said they had more than 10 full-time employees, while 37% said they employed one to three full-time workers.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU Library hosts inaugural data science conference

June 13, 2022

The data science field is rapidly expanding, but is often driven by the private sector, which monetizes data.

On Wednesday, June 8, nearly 50 people from three dozen academic institutions across the country virtually attended the inaugural meeting of data science in libraries, hosted by Arizona State University, to tackle the question: What does a library perspective mean to data science?
Two people talking at a table with people on a Zoom appearing on screen behind them Program Manager Kerri Rittschof and Director Michael Simeone from the Data Science and Analytics unit at ASU Library. Download Full Image

“The ASU Library’s Data Science and Analytics team wanted to bring together our colleagues to share our activities and imagine new work in data science that could happen in libraries,” said Michael Simeone, director for data science and analytics at ASU Library. “The goal of data science in libraries isn’t to echo Google and Facebook, but to introduce more people to the practice of data science and meet the needs of our students, faculty and staff. We want to understand what the unique contributions of libraries can be when it comes to data science.”

What is data science? 

More than a discipline, data science is a direction that allows exploration using models and visualizations to shift thinking from understanding to prediction. The ASU Library’s Data Science and Analytics unit was established in 2016. At the time, data science units within libraries were unique, but quickly became common at academic libraries.

By offering workshops, open labs and research consultations, data science units engage machine learning; data analytics; visual storytelling; network analysis; and text and data mining. Working within the heart of the university, libraries help people in disciplines ranging from the humanities and social sciences to engineering and math with research and coding.

The conference introduced several topics covering activities to challenges, and successes to collaborations, that attendees discussed through Zoom. Events and workshop series like “Data and Donuts” to “Data at your Desk” introduced students and faculty to various data science topics, like R and Python programmingR is a statistical language used for the analysis and visual representation of data. Python is a high-level, interpreted, general-purpose programming language better suitable for machine learning, deep learning and large-scale web applications.. When the pandemic started, data science units shifted their events online and found success attracting audiences virtually. 

Program Manager Kerri Rittschof and Library Data Scientist David Little helped lead a team from across ASU Library to facilitate the conversations.

"'I didn’t know libraries offered data science!’ is an often-heard expression, and we wanted to hear how units are telling stories about how they transform a student’s career or a faculty’s research project,” said Rittschof. “We were thrilled with the outcome and that we, the attendees, want to work together, coordinate events, share resources, and not wait until next year to get back together.” 

Many data science units see success by partnering and collaborating across campus. At ASU, the library's Data Science and Analytics unit has worked with biologists, social scientists, engineers, geographers and nonprofit organizations.

‘The library is your lab’

In addition to workshops, data science units work with classes, develop training materials and join platforms that promote discovery. One unit offered a machine learning club on Discord. 

“We’re teaching people how to use tools and become competent with those tools,” Simeone said. “This meeting gave all of us inspiration for the work moving forward to continue developing new events, research opportunities and collaborations.”

Data science in libraries offer students, faculty and staff upskilling opportunities. One attendee shared the phrase “The library is your lab” as a reminder for how libraries continue to be places of discovery that reach all programs and disciplines at the university. 

For more information about the Data Science and Analytics unit, as well as upcoming events, contact

Marilyn Murphy

Communications Specialist, ASU Library