How Dark Skies Could Boost Shaftesbury’s Tourism Businesses

If you operate a tourism business in the Shaftesbury area, you could start cashing in on our dark skies. An expert in stargazing tourism will share inspiring case studies during a talk at the Royal Chase Hotel.

Richard Darn will explain how guesthouse, café and AirBnB owners could make more money from our lack of light pollution. “Astro-tourism is not just a pipe dream, it’s already here,” said Richard Darn.

The keen astronomer has studied how some tourism destinations have capitalised on their unspoilt views of the night-time stars. “Areas like Exmoor have benefited from becoming a Dark Sky Reserve. Further afield Northumberland and Galloway in Scotland have had their tourism scene transformed in some ways by exploiting a new market,” said Richard. “They have recognised that, just as people want to come to see ancient abbeys, beautiful hills, woodlands and rivers, they also want to see a sky full of stars. It is what Cranborne Chase delivers in spades. So that’s why I think astro-tourism is relevant here as well.”

The Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which begins one mile from Shaftesbury, is currently applying for formal recognition as an International Dark Sky Reserve. But living here, it is easy to forget that some areas of England can’t see the stars because of street, business or domestic lighting creating glare. “You can’t overestimate the amount of light pollution that most people have to tolerate. It has got much worse in the past three or four years with the unchecked growth of external LED lighting,” said Richard. “80% of British people living in urban areas don’t see the Milky Way. You come here to see the Milky Way.”

Richard says that five minutes out of Shaftesbury, there are dark night sky views that people will want to see and experience. “For most people, their view of the night-time skies is ten, twenty or thirty stars. It’s not much more than that. There’s no particular majesty and magic about a sky that’s permanently shrouded in the light pollution fog,” he said. “You get them out to what I would consider a ‘ho-hum’ kind of sky and they open their eyes and say ‘wow’. You bring them somewhere like this that genuinely does have dark skies that are worth preserving and would qualify for International Dark Sky Reserve status, it will blow their socks off.”

Richard thinks there are so many tourists who want to view dark skies that it should be considered of economic importance. “I think in terms of potential audience it is,” he said. “It’s a question of whether the businesses in those areas offer a proper dark sky welcome.”

Tourism businesses can learn about the benefits of working together to sell our dark skies during Richard’s presentation. “It’s just about putting together an offer to make sure people realise you don’t have to go another 100 miles west or 400 miles north. You can see similar skies in this area. There’s a market and I think it’s a good opportunity.”

Richard says that his talk is relevant to a broad range of tourism-related businesses. “You could be a walking guide, you could be a landscape photographer that sells pictures,” Richard offered. “Doing these events in other areas, it’s been a wide range of people. Typically they will be attendees with holiday cottages, hotel owners and managers. But we’ve had a full panoply of people connected to the tourist economy that will benefit.”

Businesses that attend will hear how they can drum up more trade. “I live under a very light polluted sky and I have to travel significant distances in my life as an amateur astronomer. I’ve spent probably thousands of pounds travelling Britain indulging in my hobby,” said Richard. “If you come, you will learn how to attract people like me and how to attract complete novices.”

Richard’s talk is at the Royal Chase Hotel

He says his session will talk about what needs to be on business websites and how to create a dark skies section. “Should you provide some equipment to people? Yes! I will give some case studies of businesses that have made a success of it in other areas,” he said. “We’ll also see what little steps you can take to help improve the quality of your external lighting. I hope people go away thinking they’ve got some tools in the pocket to exploit it in a sustainable way and to improve their own business prospects.”

Richard’s session at the Royal Chase Hotel is on Wednesday 20th March. It starts at 7.00pm and will last around 2 hours. It’s £7.50 per person and you can pay on the door.