When tourism and hospitality leaders, innovators, and marketers on a regional and national level gather in Greater Fort Lauderdale at the Synergy Summit for Cultural and Heritage Tourism May 9-11, growth and expansion will be on the agenda.

Presenters will outline the economic impact of multicultural tourism on the industry and the value of promoting the richness of heritage neighborhoods, cultural attractions, artists, and businesses to visitors. Summit attendees will have a chance to network with these industry power players and they can plan follow-up meetings to explore possibilities for future collaborations.

The CHAT Summit is a showcase of best practices and models – goals that are not unattainable.  

I was reminded of how the telling of our cultural stories can evolve during a recent tour of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum located in the swamplands of the Big Cypress Reservation in the Everglades. In just an hour’s drive from Fort Lauderdale, after winding through a modern suburban community, you go back to the beginning, historically.

A 17-minute film captures the multicultural origins of the people who came to be called Seminoles, including intermarriage with Whites and Africans escaping enslavement.  Other highlights include the emergence of the clans and symbolic animals to the evolution of the tribe’s economic self-sufficiency, the six reservations in Florida, including Hollywood, the urban experience with the landmark Hard Rock Casino and Hotel, and the creation of the AH-Tah-Thi-Ki, the first tribally-owned and governed accredited museum. 

Cultural and heritage tourism has also been a part of the story since the early part of the 20th Century when the tribe began offering crafts and alligator wrestling shows to vacationers that, over time, evolved into attractions that helped to make the area a popular tourism destination.  Their cultural storytelling has grown and expanded over the decades.

The folk museum features lifelike exhibits modeled by real people capturing real-life moments of camp life, food preparation, marriage rituals, and the mystical Green Corn Dance as well as an intimate storytelling space with tribal legends. Temporary exhibits feature contemporary aspects of the community. But the historical experience goes beyond its doors.

You can walk the mile-long boardwalk dotted with ceremonial grounds, historic pavilions, a hunting camp, and an arts and crafts village, or wander off the path to watch the archaeological restoration and preservation process in the Observation Hall.

And, if you drive just three miles away to Billie Swamp Safari, you can take a swamp buggy ride that crosses the Everglades water buffer like an airboat and  diverges onto a road into a forest of plants with medicinal properties, past sinkholes and old hunting campground, through plains with imported zebras, deer, antelope, bison, and horses as well as wild birds and boars.  This is cultural tourism with a decidedly unexpected touch.

Other cultural communities in Broward have gems and surprises, too – maybe not as elaborate, but still interesting to explore. Hopefully the Cultural and Heritage Tourism Summit will galvanize efforts to help some of these to grow and expand as well.