With the increase in demand for different types of experiential tourism, astrotourism is expected to be a preferred tourism trend in the coming years.
Astrotourism is a form of experiential tourism in which tourists travel in search of astronomical experiences, such as stargazing, observing lunar eclipses, aurora borealis, gazing meteor. Besides, activities such as visiting the observatories, astronomy museum, planetarium, traveling into the earth’s atmosphere by spacecraft, etc are also considered experiences of astrotourism.
Based on characteristics of these activities, astrotourism is often divided into 2 main types:
- Terrestrial astrotourism
Terrestrial astrotourism is the most common form of astrotourism, which includes travel experiences that aim to observe astronomical phenomena from the ground in suitable geographic areas, with minimal level of light pollution and support from technical equipment. For example, from August to April every year, many astrotourists visit countries in the Northern hemisphere such as Canada, Norway, Finland, etc. to observe the aurora borealis.
In addition to observing astronomical phenomena, activities related to visiting observatories and astronomy museums for the purpose of learning knowledge about the universe are also classified as terrestrial astrotourism.
- Space tourism
Space tourism is a concept that refers to the activities of traveling into space by spacecraft. This concept has only recently become popular thanks to the development of aerospace corporations such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, … Space tourism includes flights into the stratosphere of the atmosphere, the low-orbit or suborbital flights, and observation of spacecraft launches on spaceports.
In addition, there are forms of virtual tourism to simulate astronomical phenomena or flights into space.
Astrotourism and sustainable tourism development
The main activity of the terrestrial astrotourism experiences is observing the stars, natural astronomical phenomena, combining with learning scientific knowledge of geography, environment and history to explain the phenomena. Therefore, terrestrial astrotourism is considered similar to ecotourism and has similar positive effects because this type of tourism emphasizes the conservation of natural resources.
For example, one of the most important factors in offering terrestrial astrotourism experiences is a dark sky without light pollution. Therefore, destinations that have a strategy to develop terrestrial astrotourism such as cities in North America, Iceland, Australia, etc. really focus on preserving the dark sky and limiting activities that increase levels of light pollution.
It can be said that terrestrial astrotourism has positive implications for sustainable tourism development because this form of tourism provides tourists knowledge about nature and the universe, raises awareness and encourages tourists to protect nature and the environment.
On the other hand, space tourism is controversial because of the negative effects it causes. The research and construction of spaceports as well as the use of fuel to operate spacecraft create a large amount of emissions that pollute the environment and accelerate climate change. Experts in the climate change field fear that the burning of fuel by spacecraft will have a negative impact on the ozone layer.
Besides, although space tourism brings new experiences to tourists, this type of tourism only caters to a small group of tourists who can afford the extremely high cost for a flight to space. Therefore, space tourism brings only very limited benefits compared to the negative effects it causes, and it is considered an unsustainable form of tourism (1).
The trend of terrestrial astrotourism is increasingly popular
Sustainable tourism is a trend and a development goal of the tourism industry in recent years. Therefore, tourism experiences that emphasize environmental protection and nature conservation have been increasingly invested and developed, especially terrestrial astrotourism. This type of tourism is receiving more and more attention from tourists and destinations thanks to its positive effects.
Dark-sky Park is a concept that refers to areas that take measures to limit artificial light pollution to promote astronomy research and offer astrotourism experiences for tourists. In 2018, the International Dark-sky Association (IDA) reported that the number of spots registered to the list of dark sky spots has increased five times since 2010. By 2020, there are over 130 certified IDSPs in the world. This shows that countries are increasingly interested in the conservation and promotion of astrotourism awareness.
Besides, in recent years, many countries have also recorded an increasing number of tourists traveling to admire astronomical phenomena. In 2017, Airbnb recorded more than 50,000 tourists from 26 countries around the world traveling to the US to observe the solar eclipse. In Chile, data in 2019 shows that its two famous observatories, Paranal and La Silla, annually welcome thousands of visitors (10,000 – Paranal, 4000 – La Silla) to learn about astronomy and observe the sky.
With the increasing demand for astrotourism, accommodations also seek to capture and provide services that meet the needs of tourists. Airbnb said that after the solar eclipse in 2017, there were about 3,000 accommodations offering telescopes. Many hotels are specifically designed to provide a stargazing experience for tourists with telescopes and sky-view domes in astrotourism destinations around the world. In 2019, Lonely Planet forecasts that Dark Skies – astrotourism experiences in destinations with dark skies will be a new travel trend.
The increase in tourist demand, as well as the promotion of investment and research of destinations in the development of terrestrial astrotourism in recent years, has shown the development potential of this trend. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic in the past year has also contributed to the formation of new travel habits, in which experiential tourism activities, avoiding crowded places and associated with nature are expected to grow strongly after the pandemic. Those will be favorable conditions promoting further development for astrotourism in the future.