I travel a lot, and during my travels I have encountered many places where astronomy is a central part of tourism. Especially in the United States, in almost every state you can visit at least one observatory.
Public observatories like Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, or Lowell observatory in Flagstaff dedicate themselves to being attractions. And it’s very popular, every time I’ve visited places like Griffith, it’s been packed with people. This is wonderful for promoting scientific literacy and an understanding of our universe.
In December 2015 I was in Maui, Hawaii. On the island next door is one of the world’s largest telescopes, and astronomy is a major part of Hawaiian culture, so it’s no wonder there are a lot of astronomy tours and the like. At the hotel I stayed at (Hyatt Regency, Maui) they even had a telescope viewing on the roof of the hotel every night. These were also extremely popular and fully booked almost every night.
But most exciting was an astronomy tour up on the top of the Haleakala volcano. There was also a large observatory at the peak, which of course is relatively unknown. Partly because one of the world’s largest telescopes is on the island next to it, and partly because one did not get to enter the observatory itself.
Instead, the tour guide set up a telescope outside the observatory and showed some planets, galaxies and nebulae. It was very fun to see how interested people were. After the tour was over, I stopped to take some pictures, the conditions were perfect at the top of the mountain, above clouds and light pollution. People then stopped and began to ask me things about space instead, even people who were not part of the tour came and talked with me. People are obviously very curious, which is great fun to see.
It is my opinion that things like telescopes open to the public, and astronomy tours are an excellent tourist attraction, and the tourism industry should take advantage of it more. Both because it is so popular and an excellent source of revenue, and because it teaches people about the universe we live in.
The great American solar eclipse of 2017 sparked a major interest in astronomy as a a tourist attraction. Not just eclipses, the fact that it got such massive attention from the general public meant a lot of people started looking into other aspects of astronomy and astronomical phenomenon.
But if you want to see more eclipses they aren’t as rare as one might think, if you can travel that is. There are specific companies that organizer trips to view eclipses all around the world.
Then of course there’s the much less rare lunar eclipse which you can probably watch in your backyard at some point this year. So make sure to look up the dates!
Other instances of astronomical science as a tourist attraction include Northern lights (Aurora borealis) tours. These are mainly available in northern latitudes, The Ice hotel in the north of Sweden offers Aurora tours for example.
And the next time you are traveling, be sure to check out if there is any observatory with public viewings nearby!