Dark tourism without death: the joy of dark night skies

Authors: Beer, S. and Light, D.

Conference: Travel and Tourism Research Association 2019 annual research conference. Tourism in the era of connectivity

Dates: 8-10 April 2019

Place of Publication: Conference abstracts



Dr Sean BEER and Dr Duncan LIGHT


Research paper

This paper explores the joys of dark night skies. Darkness has long been associated with evil. This link to evil would appear to form part of our collective unconscious. From a European tradition it can be found in works such as Beowulf and Macbeth; where evil comes from and is hidden by the dark. There has been significant academic discussion about ideas of dark tourism, that is tourism associated with death (Ivanova & Light, 2018; Light, 2017), but comparatively little discussion about the joys of darkness, and tourism that is specifically associated with travel to places that have dark night skies. In this paper, we review the disparate nature of current research and aim to establish a broad research agenda for exploring dark night sky tourism.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is the leading organization combating light pollution with a mission to, “Preserve and protect the nighttime [sic] environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting” (IDA 2019). As part of its work it has designated more than one hundred locations as International Dark Sky Places, because of the low levels of light pollution and quality of their dark night skies. There are six potential categories:

International Dark Sky Communities International Dark Sky Parks Dark Sky Reserves Dark Sky Sanctuaries Urban Night Sky Places Dark Sky Friendly Developments of Distinction.

In each of these cases it is considered that the absence of light pollution brings benefits to human health, wildlife and ecosystems, energy conservation, and dark sky heritage. Given the special nature of these places, it appears that people are keen to visit them for the purposes of leisure and tourism.

Academic discussion of dark night skies in the context of tourism has been limited. A review of literature found four papers on dark skies tourism and three additional papers specifically relating to Astro tourism (tourism for the purpose of astronomy). There are, however, a significant number of publications in other areas such as ecology, human health, pollution studies, astronomy and economics, which would bring a greater contextual understanding. There is also a broad range of non-academic or grey literature. In this paper we use a conceptual framework based on tourism, people and place to bring a structure to the current debate surrounding dark night skies and tourism.

The broad conclusions of this review indicate that there are potentially many good reasons why people might wish to visit areas with dark night skies in terms of the quality of the environment, well-being (physical and spiritual), culture, and for the purposes of astronomy. We identify a number of priorities for further research. First, we currently have little understanding of why people visit places associated with dark skies. Second, there is a need for a fuller understanding of the ecological and economic costs and benefits of ‘dark sky tourism’. Third, the processes that destinations go through to certify and promote their dark night skies requires fuller scrutiny. We conclude by identifying a research agenda which has the potential to integrate numerous different themes within tourism studies.


IDA, 2019. Who we are. Available online at: http://www.darksky.org/about/ [accessed 10/1/2019].

Ivanova, P. and Light, D., 2018. ‘It’s not that we like death or anything’: exploring the motivations and experiences of visitors to a lighter dark tourism attraction. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 13 (4), 356-369.

Light, D., 2017. Progress in dark tourism and thanatourism research: An uneasy relationship with heritage tourism. Tourism Management, 61, 275-301.

Source: Manual