The Revitalization of the Navajo Village Heritage Center
In February 2019, the Navajo Village Heritage Center began a new life. A young man, 21-years-old, set his mind to do something and did it, and in doing so, sets an example, not only for other young entrepreneurs, but for all who want to revitalize a fading business. Not all are successful in these endeavors. It takes persistence and support from family, friends and the community.
Page and the surrounding communities, as Robert Johnson sings, are “standing at the crossroads.” The Navajo Generating Station is closing; the economic dynamic is forever changing. Page, unlike other small cities affected by plant closings, is fortunate. Tourism is increasing. While the city negotiates revitalization projects, beautification and branding, the forward-thinking businesses act.
At 13, Tomas Hunt started his journey at Navajo Village performing the Grass Dance, a modern Native American powwow dance. Under the mentorship of Lestin Fuller, Hunt advanced to the Hoop Dance, learning to perform with five hoops. He didn’t stop there. He progressed to 24 hoops and ranks in the top 10 worldwide for his performances. Hunt has danced in local venues and across the country, as far away as Washington D.C. and New York.
Hunt knows it takes more than world-class dancing to run a successful business. He built on knowledge and wisdom learned growing up in the Navajo Nation. Hunt’s first language was Navajo.
His grandfather and family taught him the Diné (Navajo) culture. He continued his cultural education under the mentorship of Wally Brown and Olin Cummings. Hunt went on to teach cultural awareness to others.
Phase One: Restoration
Hunt purchased Navajo Village from his mentors, Brown and Cummings. It was time to get to work. The property had fallen into disrepair. The aging previous owners couldn’t keep up with maintenance. “The place looked abandoned, but I saw a diamond in the rough.” The restoration became an event. A sheep was butchered and barbequed for the 20 friends and family members who helped with cleanup, repairs and construction.
Phase Two: Getting Customers
At first glance, a visitor might assume the Navajo Village Heritage Center is a tour through historical structures, followed by a costumed dance performance. While this is true, it doesn’t describe the experience guests are treated too.
Part of running a successful business is meeting or exceeding customer expectations. The Navajo Village tour experience is both theatrical and educational, and simultaneously structured and spontaneous. Visitors leave with new insights and positive memories.
Satisfying customers isn’t always enough for success. It takes time to build a good reputation and relationships. Hunt had to reckon with the bad reviews left before he took over. As the new owner, he found he could have bad reviews removed.
Working with Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other popular user review sites is critical in today’s app driven culture. Hunt knows how important it is for a business monitor and reply to reviews. He says, “Once reviews improved, business improved.”
“Starting off was scary,” says Hunt. Business was slow and seasonal. Things looked bleak, but when a tour bus rolled into the parking lot, hope was rekindled. He’s since established working relationships with tour services and continues to work toward getting the Navajo Village added to more tour packages. The Page tourism boom has Hunt thinking about offering tours year-round.
Hunt had strong support and encouragement from his wife. Together, they weathered the early stages of revitalizing and getting a small business off the ground. In little over a year, four tours a day grew to eight tours a day.
Phase Three: The Future
There’s an old saying, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” This pseudo wisdom doesn’t apply to modern business. Perhaps a more appropriate saying for this day in age is, “If you snooze, you lose.”
Restoring life to a dying business is a substantial achievement. It should be an inspiration to all young entrepreneurs. It should also remind established businesses that stability and growth are fragile and require a diligent eye toward changing conditions, customer service and seeking ways to improve. It requires action.
Hunt has a five-year plan for additions and improvements. Along with inclusion in more tour packages, better signage and parking is needed. He also wants to enhance visitor’s Navajo culture experience by adding crops, sheep and events featuring Navajo cuisine. Tomas Hunt isn’t snoozing.