As the tourism sector recovers from the global pandemic, astrotourism offers new opportunities for both the industry and local communities. The IAU OAD strives to work with astronomy and tourism players to create benefits for rural communities.
The world was ill-prepared for the human, economic, and social havoc wreaked by the global COVID-19 pandemic. One of the industries severely impacted has been the tourism sector. As travel around the world ground to a halt, most tourism-related services were shut down, including the fledgling astrotourism sector. More than a year later, astrotourism could be a beacon of hope for both tourism players and rural communities affected by the pandemic.
In pursuit of its mission of ‘using astronomy as a tool to further sustainable development’, the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) funds and supports grassroots projects globally. So far, the OAD has awarded, through its parent organization, the International Astronomical Union, more than 1 Million Euros in grants to 200 projects. These projects, run by passionate people who want to make life better for their community, employ astronomy to improve education, generate income, further equity and inclusion, remove barriers to STEM, and much more.
One of the OAD projects to achieve great success has been the community-centred astrotourism initiative. Termed as Astrostays (combining astrotourism and homestays), the project is spearheaded by Global Himalayan Expedition and Mountain Homestays in India. A 3-month long pilot program was concluded in Ladakh, India in late 2019. The pilot trained people from a rural village, Maan, on basic astronomy and telescope operations, so that they could offer star-gazing services to tourists. The project was an instant hit, generating substantial revenue for a community with limited access to new sources of income. Importantly, the model included a mechanism where income feeds back into community development programmes that benefit the whole village. 2021 has been a breakthrough year for the Astrostays project. With the return of domestic tourism, astrotourism in the area has witnessed increased interest. The people of Maan have benefited immensely from this tourism, earning several times the average regional income from 2 months of operation.
Astrotourism is uniquely placed to grow in our socially distanced world. Star-gazing, as an experiential form of tourism, encourages one to slow down and introspect. It has the power to inspire, entertain, evoke curiosity, and encourage a positive state of mind. The rural, outdoor location is an added benefit.
The OAD aims to work with the astronomy community, including research institutions, amateur and professional astronomers, communicators, outreach professionals, as well as tourism players to establish astrotourism projects to benefit communities around the world. Interested individuals and organizations are requested to email email@example.com.
For further details on Astrostays, visit the website https://astrostays.com/.