YINCHUANï¼ When night fell and the Milky Way Arch appeared over the Chinese equivalent of “Route 66” in the city of Zhongwei, northwest China, the photographer from astronomy Dong Shuchang captured the most beautiful moment.
Stargazing tourism is shining brightly in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which administers Zhongwei, because since 2000 the interior region has been trying to rebrand itself as “the hometown of the stars.”
“Ningxia has many places where you can film or photograph starry skies, and transportation is convenient,” said Dong, 23, from Ningxia and named Astronomy Photographer of the Year by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. .
Dry with low rainfall, Ningxia enjoys around 300 sunny and beautiful days a year and low levels of light pollution. Convenient transportation and lush landscapes with mountains and deserts add to its growing reputation as a stellar viewing site.
In 2000, Ningxia got the idea of ââcultivating the “hometown of stars” and began to develop its stargazing industry. A pentagram-shaped hotel was built in the Shapotou Scenic Area in Zhongwei, a desert tourist destination.
The star-themed hotel, with its astronomical cuisine, shows and conferences, has become fashionable among tourists in southern China. “In high season, there are no rooms available in the hotel,” said Wu Zhanjun, marketing manager.
“The starry sky can ‘add vivid colors’ to traditional tourism resources in the northwestern regions. Currently, Ningxia is exploring tourism products and service standards involving deserts and astronomy, and building several camps stargazing is our top priority, âsaid Liu Jun, head of the regional culture and tourism department.
With the development of astronomy education and the space industry in China, the Chinese are increasingly interested in stargazing. Statistics show that more than 30,000 astronomy enthusiasts and photographers flock to Ningxia every year.
However, compared to New Zealand and Japan, stargazing tourism in China is still in its infancy. There is a dearth of tourist destinations with full support facilities and mature marketing channels.
That’s why art designer Xu Bo gave up his job in Shanghai and returned to his hometown, where he set up a business dedicated to stargazing tourism projects. Xu and his colleagues set up stargazing camps, organized live broadcast sessions, and designed travel itineraries.
âStargazing tourism is not just about taking a trip,â Xu said. “We have broadcast live major astronomical phenomena and published popular science articles to let more people know about Ningxia through its starry sky.”
China has a solid foundation in astronomy and the most advanced communication technologies. Xu hopes to make Ningxia a great place for astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts at home and abroad.
To enable astronomers to get more professional advice in Ningxia, the first group of 40 astronomical tour guides graduated and started working in September.
Liu Pushun, 40, is one of them. Under countless stars, he offered his knowledge of the constellations and gave every tourist the opportunity to share his stories. Some people cried, others got excited, and others fell silent.
Many astronomers decided to change their lives after the trip, Liu said. “What motivated the change was not the journey itself, but the opportunity to experience another side of themselves.”