Red planet bringing spin off benefits

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Scottish tourism is boldly going where few destinations have gone before, with its designated Dark Sky Communities proving a hit with stargazers.

Now VisitScotland, the national tourism association, hopes that Moffat’s designation as Europe’s first “Dark Sky Town” will add to the country’s astronomical allure.

In February, the Dumfries and Galloway town joined Coll, the first “Dark Sky Island” in Europe, and Galloway Forest Park, one of only four “Dark Sky Parks” in the western world, as one of the best places on earth to study the sky at night, all of which is helping to boost “astro tourism” in Scotland.

There is particular interest in the heavens this month as, on 30 May, Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in over a decade – a mere 46.8 million miles away, making the Red Planet appear particularly bright in the night sky over the next few weeks.

Another excellent place to obverse the night sky is at the edge of Galloway Forest Park, where the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory – a four-star VisitScotland attraction – allows visitors to learn about the wonders of the universe.

A recent report estimates that the Dark Sky Park is taking in an additional £500,000 over the winter months purely related to dark sky tourism with the expectation for that to rise to around £1 million.

Keith Muir, Head of Tourism & Communication at Forestry Commission Scotland, which owns the park, said: “The Dark Sky Rangers are now in place and beginning to get some trade and more local accommodation providers are being affected by the increase in astro tourism. Even the increase in the number of dark sky places has assisted in the numbers with all the local events being either full or oversubscribed. There is still work to do and opportunities to be taken, but this takes time, resources and willingness to be part of it by the local tourism businesses.”

Dumfries and Galloway followed up the Dark Sky Park designation with a successful application for Moffat to become a Dark Sky Town.

Colin Smyth, Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Economy, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, said: “Our council is committed to supporting the local economy and by working together with communities such as Moffat, the region’s tourism businesses can capitalise on our fantastic natural assets. The award of Dark Sky Town will encourage more visitors to experience what Dumfries and Galloway has to offer during the winter months, helping to boost our local economy during these periods.”

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: “Having Dark Sky status is a real draw for visitors, with all manner of other tourism businesses benefiting.”