Beyond the Beach – Foundations for Caribbean Astrotourism

Etelman Observatory in the Virgin Islands
A view of Etelman Observatory, Charlotte Amalie, and the Caribbean Sea in the United States Virgin Islands Credit: Lev Horodysky

The United States Virgin Islands are an underdeveloped US territory whose local economy depends on tourism. That industry was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the slow recovery was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism tastes are changing, with younger generations more likely to be interested in local, ethical, and unique experiences, which an industry built on catering to large cruise ships and beachgoers has been slow to respond to. USVI astrotourism provides a unique opportunity to expand beyond beaches and bars.

We will build an astrotourism training program to develop local skills in presenting astronomy to the public, and build a supporting network for locals establishing tourism businesses that incorporate astronomy. The program will fund 1) the development of public outreach materials and travel kits (green laser pointers, star charts, etc.) by local undergraduate and postgraduate students, which will be tested with diverse audiences at our local observatory (Etelman Observatory) and elsewhere around the islands, and 2) a professional development program for aspiring astrotourism business ventures.

During the grant, our students will develop public outreach materials using a smartphone based adaptive-learning system being developed by the program lead (spring 2022). Afterwards, they will test these materials at the observatory, cruise ship docks, our local children’s museum, and national parks and beaches (summer 2022). Vetted and effective materials will reside in a digital content and physical lending library which will be accessible by and marketed to businesses interested in astrotourism. Parallel to this, we will build a professional development program aimed at helping locals develop astrotourism-focused businesses (or incorporate astrotourism into their existing businesses). This program will be tested and refined (summer 2022) prior to being offered in a pilot format (fall 2022).


Lev Horodyskyj