New Delhi, February 08, 2021.
The Ministry of Tourism’s Dekho Apna Desh Webinar series titled “Astro- Tourism: The Next Frontier of Nature-based Tourism” held on 06th February, 2021 focused on promoting nature-based tourism which is emerging strongly in a post – COVID world, the major thrust of the webinar was sustainable and responsible travel. The webinar focused on exploring the evolution of Astro-tourism as one of the most authentic and environment-friendly ways of travelling along with its immense potential to bring positive social, economic and conservation benefits to remote communities.
The webinar began with the opening remarks by Smt. Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India. Smt. Rupinder Brar stated that Astro-tourism is a new phenomenon that is taking hold across the world. Capturing people’s inherent interest in the mysterious provides the drive for tourism through the ages. She informed that India has immense potential with regard to nature based tourism having all physical geographical features of the world. She further promoted the idea of enhancing domestic travel “Dekho Apna Desh” by visiting lesser known & nature surrounded destinations. She also appealed to consider all precautionary safety measures while travelling.
The Webinar was presented by Shri Jaideep Bansal, Chief Operating Officer, Global Himalayan Expedition, which is a social enterprise that conducts Impact Expeditions to bring Solar Energy to remote Himalayan Villages. GHE has electrified 140 villages and lit up the lives of more than 60,000 people through an innovative concept of Impact Tourism. GHE’s work of remote rural electrification has been documented by National Geographic, BBC and NDTV to reach out to a worldwide audience and has been internationally recognized and awarded by the WTTC and the World Tourism Awards. The United Nations has recognized GHE as one of the successful case studies in sustainable tourism impacting SDG Goal No 7.
The other presenters were Smt. Sonal Asgotraa, Project Lead of GHE’s Astronomy for Livelihood Initiative called Astrostays (www.astrostays.com) and Shri Kevin Govender – Founding and current director of Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD). Smt. Sonal was a team member of the 2013 International Antarctic Expedition led by Polar Explorer, Sir Robert Swan, OBE while Shri. Kevin Govender was previously Manager of the Southern African Large Telescope’s Collateral Benefits Programme (including Astro-Tourism) at the South African Astronomical Observatory, and facilitator for the establishment of the African Astronomical Society, Joint recipient of the Edinburgh Medal, together with the International Astronomical Union.
The Presenters began by providing information on Astro-tourism and its potential to drive sustainable & responsible tourism. They briefed about Astrostays which is a community-driven astrotourism model that puts communities at the heart and center of the tourism model. The program is aimed at empowering and strengthening communities by diversifying economic bases and creating new opportunities for livelihood creation using astrotourism as a key development intervention. This model is also an innovative form of experiential and sustainable tourism that generates economic benefits for remote and rural regions of the world that have access to clear night skies while creating unique life-changing experiences for travellers.
Trained on basics of astronomy and know-how of operating telescopes, the local homestay owners (mostly women) conduct night sky gazing sessions for the incoming tourists, creating a new channel of revenue generation for the communities, that has eventually led to increase in stimulus to local economy, reducing local youth migration and preservation of age-old cultural Himalayan heritage.
They informed that till date, 35 local women have been trained across 5 Astro-stays in the high-altitude Himalayan desert of Ladakh, generating a strong annual income for the local communities.
The presenters also highlighted on some of the major destinations which can be promoted as Astrotourism destinations in India such as Pangong Lake (Ladak), Rann of Kutchh (Gujarat), Mandu (Madhya Pradesh), Lahaul & Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) etc. They further intensified on promoting National Parks & Wildlife Sanctuaries as Astrotourism destinations during night.