Native culture attracts visitors from abroad

By Dale Neal
Cherokee, North Carolina (AP) 8-08

If you take a trek to Cherokee, through the state-of-the art museum or the Oconaluftee Indian Village, you will likely hear more than just the ancient language of the Cherokee.

You might be just as likely to hear German or Japanese or English with a distinct British or Australian accent.

“Some days you hardly hear any English at the village,” said Mary Jane Ferguson, director of marketing and promotion for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. “We clearly know – and research has told us – that international visitors have a real affinity for Native American culture.”

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that while high gas prices and a slowing economy are crimping travel plans for many Americans, more overseas visitors seem to be taking advantage of a weak dollar to visit Western North Carolina, ancestral home to the Cherokee.

In 2007, North Carolina drew about 358,000 foreign travelers, ranking 15th among all states, according to the latest figures available from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“The Germans in particular love that authentic American Indian culture,” said Wit Tuttell, a spokesman for the N.C. Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development. German passengers flying into Charlotte-Douglas International Airport increased 51 percent in 2007 over the previous year.

With six weeks of vacation time standard in the country and the euro reaching record highs against the dollar, Germans have the time and money to visit the U.S.

American landmarks such as New York City and the Grand Canyon are still first on their lists, but a growing number of Germans are making a second or third trip to the States and venturing into the Southeast, said Jutta Farrer, a German native and independent travel consultant in Asheville.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, working through advertising partner the Goss Agency in Asheville, has targeted the German market in the past two years with a German language Web site aimed at tour operators and German media.

“Germans speak very good English, but they still like to see things in their own language,” Farrer said.

The Germans have had a long love affair with all things Indian, Farrer said.

They grew up with the books of Karl Friedrich May, a best-selling 19th-century novelist who popularized the American West for Germans – although he visited America only once, in 1908, four years before his death. Albert Einstein and the writers Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse counted themselves among May’s ardent fans.

Now Germans as well as other Europeans are following in May’s footsteps, heading west across the Atlantic and into Western North Carolina. “They are very surprised to see Native Americans in the mountains,” Farrer said.

Many Germans take up Indian lore as a hobby, creating clubs to “play Indian,” dressing up in Native American regalia and camping out in tepees, Farrer said.

“They are very educated about different tribes, but they like learning that the Cherokee did not really live in tepees and they didn’t have the feather headdresses,” Farrer said.

Besides soaking up the Cherokee culture, German and other international tourists want to see what else is in the area. “They want to see the Blue Ridge Parkway and what’s in Asheville,” Farrer said.

“America’s Southern Highlands,” an Asheville-produced travelogue, will be translated for the German market and enhanced with more scenes of Western North Carolina by year’s end.

The $20,000 video, created by Kurt Mann of AmericanGreenTV and a host of other Asheville creative talents, was originally designed for the MountainSouth U.S.A. trade mission last spring, which promoted the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

But the video has proved so popular that AdvantageWest wanted to retool it to reflect more attractions in Western North Carolina, including Cherokee, which has a strong appeal to the German market, said Dale Carroll, CEO of economic development agency AdvantageWest.

“Appalachia comin’ at ya” is the rhyming introduction to the English version of the upbeat video, which blends the beat of Cherokee drums and contemporary hip-hop, showing the range of cultures blending in Asheville from Shindig on the Green to the Friday night drum circles in Pritchard Park.

“This is an exciting opportunity to introduce the Asheville area to the world,” Mann said. “I think the German audience will enjoy the style and hipness of the video.”