Cultural TourismBalancing Profit, Preservation, and Common Sense

By Vicki Meade

Five-page article in the February 2000 issue of Lodging Magazine


Twenty years after marrying in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Harvard professor Eric Heller wanted to take his wife back to the historic city to celebrate their anniversary. He searched the Web and chose Hotel Santa Fe because its description intrigued him. It is partly owned by the 300-member Picuris Indian Pueblo and serves as a showcase for local Native American culture.

“It was an authentic experience,” Heller says, referring to the Pueblo-style architecture, rough-hewn pine beams and furniture, Native American weavings and artwork, as well as the hotel’s activities, which include historical lectures, Indian storytelling, and traditional dance performances. Each Sunday, the staff fires up the traditional beehive oven (called a horno) located outdoors, and bakes bread for guests to sample.

Lynne Hart, an art gallery owner in North Carolina, vividly remembers the traditionally-dressed Indian schoolchildren who performed eagle and buffalo dances at the Hotel Santa Fe for the guests during her visit. She also enjoyed the decor–“the willows, bark, the natural materials, the Native American pottery, [and] all the details.” The comfort and service, she says, were top-notch. And she was impressed by the staff (about a third of which is Native American), citing their warmth and cultural pride.

Both Heller and Hart selected the Hotel Santa Fe with the hope of finding more than a superficial nod to Southwestern culture.

Hotel Santa Fe, which opened in 199 1, embraces a philosophy that a core of hospitality experts believe is essential: the promotion of a sense of place. Insight into local culture is important to many travelers, particularly when a culture is unique or endangered. “I’ve found that our guests just can’t get enough of learning; they can’t get enough of the Native American culture,” says Paul Margetson, general manager and co-owner of the 131-guestroom property, located on the rim of downtown Santa Fe.

“Bringing guests into a sense of place is essential,” says Stanley Selengut, owner of eco-resorts in the Virgin Islands and Florida. “That means choreographing the indigenous assets, the plants, wildlife, and culture, so that visitors experience the [local] foods, beauty, history-everything that makes a place unique.”