The Dark Sky Reserve Alqueva was the first to be recognised as a "Starlight Tourism Destination", with a focus on sustainability and innovation.
The Dark Sky Reserve Alqueva in Portugal was the first to receive recognition as a "Starlight Tourism Destination" and won the World Responsible Tourism Award in 2021 and 2022 at the World Travel Awards. This case study explores how the Dark Sky Reserve Alqueva has come to be regarded as an innovative astrotourism destination.
Light pollution detracts from the allure of the night sky. Starlight destinations are certified to prove that the correct atmospheric conditions are met and that the destinations are well-suited for astrotourism. The Dark Sky Reserve Alqueva in Portugal was the first to receive recognition as a "Starlight Tourism Destination".
The Dark Sky Reserve was also recognised at the World Travel Awards as the World's Leading Tourism Project in 2020 and won the World Responsible Tourism Award in 2021 and 2022. These awards are proof of the sustainability focus within this innovative astrotourism destination.
Clear and light-free skies provide the perfect environment for stargazing experiences, but destinations and entrepreneurs need to ensure the correct facilities are installed to capitalise on these natural resources since astronomers want to view celestial bodies in the highest detail possible. The Observatory in Cumeada in the Portuguese region of Alentejo has cutting-edge telescopes for viewing planets, stars and galaxies. These telescopes have been specially designed to filter out harmful UV light, enabling observations of the sun. Additionally, monochromatic cameras enable clearer imagery. Keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in terms of telescope resolution and images is a clear requirement for astrotourism destinations to keep their appeal for this niche segment of tourists.
The Observatory also integrates technology within the products sold at their souvenir shop, incorporating QR codes with digital versions of postcard pictures and a description of the images. These Live Deepsky Selfies help tourists to relive their experiences and also to share it with their family and friends, and is a great mechanism for word-of-mouth marketing and raising awareness of this Portuguese destination.
Astrotourism also has great potential to support rural tourism. The Alqueva Dark Sky Route offers a range of different nature-based and outdoors activities, providing a multiplier effect for the region. Tourists can also get access to telescopes and binoculars and participate in outdoors stargazing workshops.
In addition to benefiting nature tourism, astrotourism is also a driver of cultural tourism, with the megalithic remains in Alqueva demonstrating how stargazing has been important for centuries.
With such a diversity of experiences deriving from the single product category of astrotourism, destination image, branding and the marketing power of immersive experiences should not be overlooked. Even if the market itself may appear niche, the potential reach and appeal of the story will be much larger. Traveller niches should not be seen as being homogenous, but as people with a range of interests, in which the entire destination's offerings complement and enhance each other. In this regard, collaboration and partnerships between businesses and an openness to recommending each other, rather than seeing other attractions as competitors is a key aspect of successful tourism routes, ultimately helping the entire visitor economy of the destination to thrive.