Have you ever thought of the starry night sky as a business resource? If not, there are in fact many reasons why you should! Astrotourism—recreation and travel related to observing outer space—and camping are aligned in many ways.
First, campgrounds are often located in the wilderness or more rural areas where there is less light pollution. Less light pollution means better stargazing conditions. Second, most people choose to camp during astrotourism experiences because they expect to stay up later and stay closest to where they can easily observe celestial objects.
In the second webinar of our astronomy series, we were joined once again by physics and astronomy expert Doug Arion to understand how campground operators can leverage astrotourism as a long-term business opportunity. Below, we summarize the key insights he shared with attendees.
Tap Into Major Celestial Events
Throughout any given year, there are numerous celestial events that either occur regularly or once in a blue moon. These major events include total solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, meteor showers, and more. The well-known Perseid meteor shower, for example, occurs every August. To view our curated list of notable 2023 celestial events here.
Because events of this nature are highly publicized by the media, you can simply latch onto their publicity to host a related event at your property in tandem. In the case of the upcoming solar eclipses, you can also research how close your park is to either the path of the total or annular eclipse and use this as a promotional tactic. Overall, use the big events happening in 2023 and 2024 as a launch platform to generate astrotourism buzz during future camping seasons.
Read Next: What Your Campground Needs to Know About the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse
Promote Lodging Around The Lunar Cycle
Fortunately for campground operators, astrotourism has grown to be much broader than just a few main events, which means you can leverage niche and off-/shoulder-season opportunities. Avid stargazers and amateur astronomers pay attention to the lunar cycle, or the moon’s phases. Because a full moon creates natural light pollution, a new moon—its opposite—provides optimal sky viewing. Since most new moons don’t appear on weekends, you can fill midweek spots by advertising better stargazing to a captive audience.
In Doug’s words, “The sky does not know about days of the week. You can take advantage of that.” Conversely, when the moon is full, its mesmerizing nature and brightness offer the perfect chance for a moonlit hike on your property. Let the moon be your guide and don’t be afraid to get creative by planning events around lesser-known astronomy themes. Super moons are an especially fun opportunity for an advertised evening hike with headlamps!
Connect with the International Dark-Sky Association
If you believe your location is extremely dark at night and well-equipped for stargazing, you may be eligible for certification by the International Dark-Sky Association as a dark sky place. Even if your park doesn’t meet the Association’s standards for designation, you can see on their website how close you are to a local dark sky place. These special areas are huge draws for outdoor and astronomy enthusiasts alike—and they will want a place to stay overnight.
In the spirit of promoting darker skies, consider how small changes at your park can reduce light pollution and boost astrotourism opportunities. Large bright lights will attract insects, raise your electric bill, and ruin nighttime wildlife and sky viewing for your guests. Doug recommends campground lights be only as bright as necessary for safe operations, be strategically targeted and controlled across your facilities, and emit warmer colors when possible (avoiding blue light especially).
Read Next: 6 Environmental Education Programs to Host at Your Campground
Partner with Local Astronomy Clubs and Academic Institutions
It may surprise you to know there are over 600 amateur astronomy clubs in the United States and 90 clubs in Canada. Invite these experts to bring their telescopes and knowledge to your park to lead a camping star party. In exchange for their wisdom and borrowed tools, you can offer a compensated stay. Go Astronomy lists a full directory of clubs by state and province on their website.
Similarly, there are over 3,000 colleges and universities across the United States. Many offer public programming at their observatories, which serve as great nearby attractions to promote. After surveying institutions within a day’s drive of your park, invite a professor to come lead an educational lecture or activity. It’s likely in line with their institution’s mission of public service and something fun for your guests—win win. These enriching guest programs could be complimentary with lodging or priced separately depending on demand and your goals.
Rent and Sell Nighttime Observation Products
Camp stores are an excellent way to generate ancillary income. Whether you have a well-established store or are considering selling products, Doug described some basic astrotourism tools your campers will need. Red flashlights are essential because they provide ample visibility without affecting one’s night vision. Stocking “DIY” regular flashlights and red balloons (for covering the lights) will also do the trick. Binoculars are great for both viewing the night sky and daytime wildlife, and this dual-use makes for an easier sell. Who doesn’t love reading a good book while on vacation? You can stock books ranging from various star guides to children’s literature and astrology favorites.
Doug was a co-founder of the Galileoscope telescope kit, which was designed to be high-quality and low cost. These kits can be purchased in bulk and resold to your campers to help them enjoy celestial events and the night sky. For eclipse-specific items, like viewing glasses, be sure to order them early and from a reputable vendor. Finally, Doug suggested investing in some tablets and installing Sky Safari or a similar app to each. Guests can rent a tablet during their stay and use it to go exploring. Through the app, holding the tablet up to the sky will reveal constellations, additional images, and neat facts.
As with most marketing ventures, trying, testing, and tweaking will go a long way in aiding your campground’s success. Whether it’s surrounding the 2024 total eclipse or an everyday celestial experience, we hope you confidently apply your creativity and these tips to try out astrotourism!
Want to watch the full webinar? Learn more about leveraging astrotourism for your campground below.
How to Leverage Astrotourism for Your Campground Revenue Strategy
Haley Dalian is a lifelong Michigander who takes advantage of recreation throughout the state’s changing seasons, such as snow skiing up north and scuba diving in the Great Lakes. A former Campspot marketing manager, Haley holds a B.A. degree in public policy from Michigan State University and an M.S. degree in sustainability from the University of Michigan. She is passionate about environmental stewardship, exploring the outdoors, and has never met a potato she didn’t like.