Flint Timmins, Destination Development Specialist, Utah Office of Tourism
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“Without a plan in place, it is difficult for communities to preserve their amenities and achieve their desired future. The lack of tourism and dark skies planning can easily lead to light pollution, overcrowding, and ultimately loss of character and identity.”
People travel from around the world to experience the American West, with its wealth of natural and cultural treasures. Expecting breathtaking vistas, rugged cowboys,and empty expanses visitors come out West looking for certain experience. In a land known for its frontier culture, the presence of dark skies can enhance the visitor experience and create unforgettable Western moments.
Tourism is on the rise in the West. Year after year, western states break visitation and visitor spending records. As traditional industries continue to transform, Western communities like those in the Colorado Plateau can supplement their local economies through tourism.
Through careful planning, marketing, branding, and product development, communities can become welcoming tourist destinations that also preserve the natural and cultural resources that make them so special to begin with.
Dark Sky Benefits
Among its many benefits, night sky preservation can be a powerful and evocative way to promote sustainable tourism in the West. As dark skies become an increasingly scarce resource, visitors will seek out those destinations that can offer unpolluted, unobstructed, and unforgettable views of the night sky.Communities that preserve the night sky have a valuable, unique amenity that can greatly enhance the visitor experience and set that community apart fromothers.
Astrotourism – consisting of activities like star-gazing or solstice festivals – is a perfect tourism product for Western communities. Astrotourism typically requires visitors to stay in a destination overnight, meaning that they spend more time and money in a destination. Sales and lodging tax revenues are funneled back to the community where they can be used to improve local infrastructure.
Overnight stays not only benefit the local economy, but also provide more opportunities for visitors to deepen their connection and interaction with the community. Dark skies allow visitors to experience certain amenities in one way during the day and in another at night,leading to a more complete, well-round visitor experience. This strengthens the community’s brand and encourages repeat visitation. Astrotourism can also lead to new business.Guides and outfitters can offer moonlight tours or story-telling components to their products. Local shops (or even public institutions like museums and libraries)can rent or sell telescopes. Communities can organize viewing parties or festivals for residents and visitors. Astrotourism provides a simple, profitable, and unique way for locals to participate in the tourism economy.
The Importance of Planning
Communities can take full advantage of dark skies through careful planning and preparation. Proper lighting and zoning ordinances can preserve the night skies and prevent light pollution. Destinations might also incorporate astrotourism into their economic development and tourism master plans. Like any aspect of community development,thoughtful planning can preserve, enhance, and capitalize on what already exists.
Without a plan in place, it is difficult for communities to preserve their amenities and achieve their desired future. The lack of tourism and dark skies planning can easily lead to light pollution, overcrowding, and ultimately loss of character and identity.