Dark Sky Alqueva allows guests to stare deep into the cosmos and has been recognised as a global hospitality leader by the World Travel Awards.
Here Breaking Travel News chats with Apolónia Rodrigues, president of the Dark Sky Association, to find out more about the project
Apolónia Rodrigues: It is a great honour to receive such a recognition, it makes us feel that we are moving in the right direction - but with that comes a great sense of responsibility.
When I started to develop Dark Sky Alqueva it was necessary to overcome many obstacles - some were due to the lack of knowledge about the importance of the night sky, while others meant it was not recognised as a tourism product.
But not only that, we also had to overcome the lack of knowledge about what light pollution is and the negative impacts it has on our environment.
So, to receive this recognition from the World Travel Awards - which showcases our destination and mission to implement sustainable development using astrotourism as the catalyst to protect the night sky - is simply magical.
BTN: Can you tell our readers a little about the Dark Sky Project and what it brings to global tourism?
AR: Dark Sky is a concept and a brand.
As a concept, it implements a model of integrated sustainable development in our destination, which means the establishment of a connection between the territory and the atmosphere above it, turning the sky and earth into one.
With this is a mission to protect the night sky.
Dark Sky as brand is intended to bring added value to the territories where this can be implemented and the Dark Sky Alqueva is the first destination in our network.
Dark Sky Alqueva is a stargazing destination with a clear mission and with a short-, medium- and long-term strategy.
Dark Sky Alqueva is a region which covers an extensive area of almost ten thousand square kilometres around the Alqueva lake, including Portuguese and Spanish territory.
Created in 2007 and owing to the quality of its night sky, this area was certified as a Starlight Tourism Destination in 2011, the first place in the world to obtain this certification.
The Dark Sky route offers a wide range of night-time activities for astronomical observation, with the naked eye or using telescopes.
In addition to these activities, complementary experiences can be enjoyed both at night and by day.
Astrotourism can be a great adventure and that is being demonstrated in Dark Sky Alqueva through our initiatives and enthusiastic activities.
Under a protected night sky many activities can be organised like stargazing sessions, blind wine tastings, night canoeing, yoga sessions, walks, bird watching, wildlife watching, Dark Sky Parties, astrophotography workshops and more.
BTN: How useful are the World Travel Awards when it comes to promoting the project to a global hospitality market?
AR: The World Travel Awards brings reputation and top-level recognition - and that helps us to go further in terms of visibility and capacity to reach international markets.
But this recognition also helps to achieve our goals as Dark Sky concept, in terms of protecting the night sky and the implementation of integrated sustainable development in our destinations.
BTN: This has been a tough year for hospitality businesses of all kinds – what toll has Covid-19 taken on your operations? Can we expect a change in direction as we enter 2021?
AR: Yes, indeed tourism is being hit in a hard way but with resilience and vision some destinations will be able to rise and reinforce their strengths.
The destinations that are less crowded and are in connection with nature, like ours, will tend to be the first to recover - so governments, as well as the national and regional tourism organisations, must offer special attention and more support to these.
But, above all, we must keep in mind the importance of maintaining our identity and the focus on sustainable development.
Since 2018, we were seeing an increase in the search for tourism products that could offer more meaningful experiences - not only in terms of knowledge but also related with the inner self.
It is why we have seen a huge increase in the demand for our destination.
This summer, during the pandemic, we had a huge increase in our stargazing sessions that helped us to recover the time we were closed during the first state of emergency.
But also in other activities like night canoeing and in the workshops of astrophotography with Miguel Claro.
These activities are nature based and done in small groups or individually.
Such increase, was also noticed in the activities of our network of partners from accommodation to gastronomy.
But the winter and early spring will be our test
Dark Sky Alqueva is the first Starlight Tourism Destination in the world and the first cross border.
It covers an area of around ten thousand square kilometres around Lake Alqueva, including Portuguese and Spanish council areas.
Together with the certified quality of the sky, Dark Sky Alqueva also offers a diversity of daytime and night-time activities, and Dark Sky Alqueva works hard to protect this natural and humankind heritage - our night sky full of stars.
Find out more on the official website.
Images: Miguel Claro and Dark Sky Alqueva