How Tribes are Going Beyond Gaming

Tapping into innovative trends

Tapping into innovative trends in hospitality, technology, and guest experiences is helping Tribal properties differentiate themselves and attract younger visitors beyond gaming and storytelling is a big part of that. With casino gaming maturing, online betting encroaching and the competitive landscape shifting, what’s referred to as the “experience economy” is expanding to attract new audiences and revenue streams.

Jennifer Chap, a consumer insights and brand strategy expert with Raving Edge who previously served in leadership roles at Universal Orlando, said Tribes have the opportunity to build on the success of gaming and diversify their enterprises to impact future generations.

“For three decades, casino gaming has been a transformational economic driver and differentiator,” Chap said. “Today, Indian gaming is maturing. There’s more competition from everywhere and differentiation is the key to standing out in the crowd.”

The Experience Economy

While gaming customers are aging, the experience economy is booming with multidimensional and meaningful experiences in demand. Shifting demographics and travel trends are inexplicably linked, Chap said. Younger generations value multigenerational and meaningful experiences, she added.

Technology and the post-COVID new normal are amplifying their travel behavior, Chap said. Younger travelers are looking for a broader range of experiences. Millennials, especially, are driving a growth in travel, and they don’t mind spending more if it’s worth it to get those experiences.

“People look for deals online where they go for their information gathering, planning and booking,” Chap said. “Authenticity and social connections are critical for both generations. They value experiential, authentic, local culture and want to engage in experiences that are in essence of the people and place.”

Cultural-based Tourism

Chap cited a Northern Arizona University that explored millennial preferences for Tribal, cultural, and nature-based tourism. They tested 11 ideas, and the top-performing concept was immersive experiences guided by Tribal members, Chap said.

No. 1 on the list was a cooking class of Tribal food followed by a shared meal – something guests were willing to pay for. No. 2 was a guided tour followed by a Tribal art gallery and retail shop that allows guests to interact with Tribal artists. In addition, they wanted a guided hiking adventure on Tribal trails.

“In contrast, the more passive and less unique that you could get at other places like wine tasting and things like that were at the very bottom,” Chap said. “I think that’s an important insight.”

Millennials travel not only to explore but to express themselves through images, videos, and stories because they value social connection, Chap said. Instagram-friendly travel is important to that generation because they want to memorialize these experiences, she added.

New technology from the startup OurWorlds that helps the public get a greater understanding and truth about Native American current and historical experiences using extended-reality 360 geolocation. It includes personal storytelling mixed with immersive technology.

“The bottom line is millennials yearn to be immersed in a unique culture, and travel is all about experiences people can feel, touch, taste and emotionally connect,” Chap said. “Meaningful experiences transform both generations. Everyday life creates lifelong memories. That’s what travel is about, and they do that through preemptive differentiation and taking what’s really unique that every Tribe has.”

The Importance of Storytelling

Marc Zasada, strategic brand and marketing, Raving Edge, is an expert in brand storytelling and has worked on global marketing programs for Microsoft, Dell/EMC, Panasonic, Oracle, Sharp, Alcatel, ATT Wireless, MasterCard, and others in the entertainment and technology sectors. He offers suggestions to use a brand as a story as Tribes diversify and expand destination audiences beyond gaming.

“My goal is not telling you how to run your business but thinking about your properties in a whole different way,” Zasada said. “Inspire your imagination.”

“In Indian country, the brand of the property is often associated with the name of the Tribe,” Zasada said. “That makes the feeling associated with that name pretty important. As you do your overall development planning, you really need to consider the strategic implication of the brand of the Tribe in the minds of the general public.”
Zasada said it’s important for that brand to diversify beyond gaming and as many noted, some diversification may be just as important as sovereignty. Brand is a feeling a person gets when they hear your name or see your logo, Zasada said. It’s not the logo.

“As you plan and expand, what is the brand feeling that you are going to create,” Zasada asks. “The best brands do more than give you a feeling. They invite you into a story and make you a participant in that story. Stories are the highest level of brands.” Physical designations have an opportunity to create a story and invite people in compared to any other type of brand, Zasada said.

“If the brand story you offer is broadly appealing and immersive, the audience for that story will expand,” Zasada said. “Expanding an audience is the essence of diversification.”

Stories Emit Emotions

A story is the ordering of otherwise random events. It brings details into a meaningful journey, Zasada said. In a crowded market, that story becomes essential and the ultimate differentiator. It’s not only true for guests but the staff as well, he adds. “In that journey you leave the normal world and join a special world,” Zasada said. “A story is an emotional shift. A great destination will change their emotional state, and that change is what they will remember.”

“A story has a beginning, middle and an end,” Zasada said. “A destination lives right in the middle of the story in suspended time. The guest again and again can return to the middle of the story, and subconsciously be a character there. The guest knows subconsciously that the story continues even though they are gone. You know you can step into it at any time.”

Randomness is the enemy of the story, and America is often the land of the random with people driving from one city to another without knowing it. When people go on vacation, one of their goals is to escape the random, said Zasada.

“We all know the destinations we most love and most seek – the restaurants, retail and everything – is part of the story of the place … You have an opportunity to do that in a way that many other destinations can’t.” Tribal properties have no global flag but have something much better – a link to authenticity with its history and culture.

“This is what people want,” Zasada said. “In the modern world and what we increasingly need. What feelings can you create with a story that’s authentic.