Beyond the Beach: Foundations for Caribbean Astrotourism

The United States Virgin Islands are an underdeveloped US territory whose local economy depends on tourism.  That industry was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the slow recovery was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Tourism tastes are changing, with younger generations more likely to be interested in local, ethical, and unique experiences, which an industry built on catering to large cruise ships and beachgoers has been slow to respond to.  USVI astrotourism provides a unique opportunity to expand beyond beaches and bars.

The aim of this project was to better integrate astronomy into tourism endeavors happening on the island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands to provide value added to existing businesses while providing a pipeline for students interested in the intersections between tourism and astronomy into these businesses as interns. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was not much demand or interest in these kinds of activities. As a result, we pivoted to strengthening connections between the Etelman Observatory and a few local businesses to build an on-island network of people dedicated to science-based tourism and education. These included primarily the Virgin islands Children’s Museum and the Bordeaux Farmers’ Market. We demoed activities and talked with locals and tourists to gauge interest in future collaborations. We currently have a small on-island network from which we can build stronger collaborations and cross-promotional activities (ie, local farmers selling goods at the observatory, the observatory teaching farmers about astronomy and agriculture).


  • One Perfect Day Sky Tour – May 2022 – One Perfect Day resort for three hours, attended by wealthier tourists, approximately 10
  • Bordeaux Farmers’ Market – April 2023 – Bordeaux Farmers’ Market for four hours, attended mostly by local farmers, some tourists
  • Most of the rest of the activities consisted of reaching out to Rotary Club, scuba companies, boating companies, and other businesses on the island without a lot of reciprocal interest.


  • VICM Children’s Museum exhibit – orrery-type device for letting children explore the configuration of the Earth-Moon-Sun with camera and associated tablet for viewing how the configuration looks like from the Earth’s surface (under construction – early model is not proving to be robust)
  • Sky tour kit – tablet with relevant apps (such as Stellarium) and green laser pointer for exploring around the night sky (in progress)
  • Agroastronomy kit – tablet with relevant apps (such as Stellarium), filters for existing telescopes, filtered glasses for looking at the sun, and materials for sundials (in progress)
  • Astro-ecology kits – tablet with relevant apps (such as Stellarium), fish charts, turtle charts for tracking animal behavior at dawn/dusk (in progress)


  • The major outcome of the project was an enhanced collaboration between Etelman Observatory, Virgin Islands Children’s Museum, and the Bordeaux Farmers’ Market. Although we would have liked to have had a stronger impact on astrotourism endeavors on the island, we found a surprising lack of interest in astrotourism collaborations. Additionally, the observatory is currently severely constrained on personnel due to funding issues, limiting how much additional effort could have been expended on pushing for these collaborations. However, we found that our test activities were well-received, laying the groundwork for future growth and cross-promotion between organizations to establish a type of science tourism network that may be a better fit for the island’s small population (rather than flooding the market with science tourism ventures, keep them constrained to a set of dedicated organizations that cross-promote each other).
  • For the Bordeaux Farmers’ Market especially, we think the new connection will be incredibly beneficial, especially to locals. Locals at the event expressed a keen interest in participating in observatory events and hosting future events from the observatory at the market, especially ones that can help farmers become more effective at their work (paying attention to lunar cycles and Earth system topics such as climate change and their impacts on their activities). The observatory likewise expressed keen interest in hosting local farmers at the observatory to sell their goods. Both organizations expressed interest in continued activities together to increase the visibility of each organization not only to tourists but to locals as well.

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