Sitka is gearing up to welcome the Heritage & Cultural Tourism Conference, an anticipated event scheduled for this spring. The three-day conference will serve as a melting pot for leaders in the visitor industry from various parts of the United States, offering a platform to exchange ideas and best practices concerning tourism in Indigenous communities.

The event is orchestrated by the Sitka Chamber of Commerce and Visit Sitka, marking a continuation of an annual tradition that began roughly two decades ago. After a brief hiatus, the conference made a comeback, propelled by a growing demand for genuine and impactful cultural experiences.

The focus of the conference is to explore and discuss effective ways to present cultural tourism that respects and honors local communities and the stories of the people within them. The aim is to create a beneficial experience for all involved – from the local community to the visitors.

Day 2 of the conference will feature Malia Sanders, the executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, as the featured speaker. Keith Henry, CEO of Indigenous Tourism of Canada, will deliver the keynote address on the first day. The event will examine the approaches to cultural tourism adopted by other regions, with a special emphasis on lessons that can be learned from Canada’s success in integrating First Nations into the tourism narrative.

A key theme of the conference is “regenerative tourism,” which focuses on developing practices and infrastructures that benefit both visitors and the local community. Examples of such initiatives in Sitka include the extensive trail system and the performances by the Naa Kahidi Dancers, a group that has been a significant draw for visitors for nearly three decades. These activities not only attract tourists but also serve as important educational and developmental platforms for local youth.

The conference is designed as a networking opportunity for seasoned professionals in the visitor industry and as a learning experience for newcomers interested in incorporating cultural heritage into their businesses. It represents an effort to engage in meaningful conversations about heritage and cultural tourism that were more challenging to have two decades ago.

The Heritage & Cultural Tourism Conference, set to take place from March 19 to 21 in Sitka, promises to make a significant impact on the state of Alaska’s tourism industry. The conference agenda and registration information are available for those interested in participating in this vital dialogue on cultural heritage in tourism.

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