Flagship 1: Socio-economic development through Astronomy








Flagship 1: Sustainable, Local, Socio-Economic Development through Astronomy is one of the Flagship programs under the OAD. This flagship program focuses on how Astronomy can be used as a tool for socio-economic development. The aim is to use astronomical facilities as a hub to stimulate various socio-economic benefits for local communities.

Astrotourism is one of the initiatives under the flagship program that focuses on sustainable, local socioeconomic development through Astronomy tourism.

What is Astrotourism?

Astrotourism is the intersection of astronomy (the study of objects in outer space) and tourism (visiting places for recreational activities). Astrotourism is a niche travel industry that focuses on celestial events, dark sky destinations, and space-related activities. The words ‘astrotourism’, ‘space tourism’, ‘celestial tourism’ and ‘dark sky tourism’ are sometimes used interchangeably, although there is no official consensus about their definitions.


Empowering Rural Communities through Astrotourism

Our mission is to harness the potent synergy of astronomy and tourism to catalyse socioeconomic development at the rural level. Recognizing the inherent advantages of naturally dark skies and rich natural and cultural heritage in many rural areas, our flagship initiative is dedicated to democratising the benefits of astronomy-based tourism. By doing so, we aspire to empower rural communities, ensuring that the transformative potential of astrotourism becomes an inclusive force, fostering economic growth and preserving local identities.

How can astronomy contribute to socioeconomic development?

Astronomy can increase socioeconomic development in many ways — through job creation, improvement of education, etc. 

There is typically an intersection between where astronomy is practised on the ground and low socioeconomic development — most astronomical facilities are built in areas that are not electrified, and these areas are often rural, inhabited by people living close to or below the poverty line.

The benefits of astronomy activities in such areas also tend to be concentrated within highly educated, already financially well-off groups, and this is a concern that needs to be addressed to reduce inequality in these areas, especially since astronomy has the potential to raise quality of life at all income groups.

A powerful way to stimulate socioeconomic development at the rural level is through astrotourism – the intersection of astronomy and tourism. Since many rural areas are naturally dark and free of light pollution, and also have access to natural and cultural heritage, this flagship looks at how we can democratise the benefits of astronomy-based tourism so that it can be used to empower rural communities.


Top-Down Approaches

Top-down approaches involve partnering with key stakeholders in the area to establish places and frameworks that support astrotourism in a particular area. These could include light pollution regulations, the establishment of an astronomical facility, centralised marketing platforms, and capacity building activities for astrotourism (such as workshops, training).

Such approaches are usually carried out in close collaboration with relevant government, industry, academic and development partners, including local and traditional leadership. A strong representation of and buy-in from local communities is crucial, since this ensures the sustainability of such an approach and is not excessively prescriptive, helping communities maintain their autonomy.

Bottom-Up Approaches

Bottom-up approaches involve encouraging the implementation of tourism activities by individuals and businesses. This encouragement can come in the form of implementation resources, support, capacity building, and external funding. There is a wide range of materials already developed to implement similar interventions across the world, and local variations offer lots of different approaches .

Such approaches are usually carried out by individuals or businesses who either have or want to develop the capacity to innovate in the private sector. It leaves a lot of freedom to the people implementing the approach, and the market provides feedback as to whether the product is successful or not.

Summary of Literature

For travellers and tourists, rural environments can play a pivotal role in facilitating genuine connections with nature, fostering active participation in local customs and traditions. Rural inhabitants are inherently more in tune with their natural surroundings, putting them in a position to offer invaluable insights into local ecosystems and cultural heritage, and enriching the tourist experience (Van Wyk-Jacobs, 2018). Night-time activities generally have reduced competition for attention, and in rural contexts (Mitchell et al., 2019), provide the ideal setting for immersive cultural encounters under unpolluted dark skies.

There is also a discernible shift away from niche astrotourism towards a more inclusive approach encompassing ecotourism and cultural tourism (Weaver, 2011). This evolution reflects tourists’ growing inclination towards meaningful experiences transcending mere scientific interest (Bjelajac et al., 2020). By broadening the tourism narrative, rural destinations can cater to a diverse range of travellers seeking authentic encounters with nature, culture, and the pursuit of existential significance. There is transformative potential in rural astrotourism products, positioning it as a compelling avenue for fulfilling the desires of travellers seeking profound connections and immersive experiences.


Van Wyk-Jacobs, L. (2018) Astro-tourism as a Catalyst for Rural Route  Development. dissertation. 

Mitchell, D. and Gallaway, T. (2019) ‘Dark sky tourism: Economic impacts on the Colorado Plateau Economy, USA’, Tourism Review, 74(4), pp. 930–942. doi:10.1108/tr-10-2018-0146. 

Weaver, D. (2011) ‘Celestial Ecotourism: New horizons in nature-based tourism’, Journal of Ecotourism, 10(1), pp. 38–45. doi:10.1080/14724040903576116. 

Bjelajac, D., Đerčan, B. and Kovačić, S. (2020) ‘Dark skies and dark screens as a precondition for Astronomy Tourism and general well-being’, Information Technology & Tourism, 23(1), pp. 19–43. doi:10.1007/s40558-020-00189-9. 

Blair, A. (2014) An exploration of the role the night sky plays in the  lives of the Dark Sky island community of Sark. dissertation. 

A Design Manual for Astrotourism Experiences (no date). the International Astronomical Union’s European Regional Office of Astronomy for Development. 

Astrotourism projects funded by the OAD



Guidelines and Lessons Learned

background information, lessons learned from past projects, and guidelines for anyone planning to run interventions

Night Sky Experience- Quick Start Guide

Aimed at inhabitants of rural areas to help make it easy to start an astrotourism/night sky experience

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Please email us at astrotourism@astro4dev.org