Dark Sky Alqueva wins second place in the 2013 Ulysses Award

Dark Sky Alqueva has recently won second place in the very competitive and highly regarded United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) Ulysses Award for Innovation in Non-Governmental Organisations.

The Ulysses Awards, commonly known as the "Oscars" of tourism, are a range of prizes awarded annually by UNTWO, which has its headquarters in the Spanish capital.

It is essentially teamwork, with contributions from a number of experts from several municipal authorities, especially Reguengos de Monsaraz, and from members of the Rota Dark Sky® (Dark Sky® Route), that has helped Genuineland –  Turismo de Aldeia (Village Tourism) to move this programme forward to its present success. The initiative was also sponsored by Turismo de Portugal, by the General Directorate for Agriculture and by the Secretary of State for Tourism, who provided institutional support for our candidature for the Ulysses Award.

It is notable that Dark Sky® Alqueva was recently identified by the European Commission as an example of innovation and good practice, as seen in the document "Enhancing the competitiveness of tourism in the EU – an evaluation approach to establishing 20 cases of innovation and good practice."

More recently still, Dark Sky® Alqueva was highlighted by the prestigious magazine National Geographic as one of the attractions for visits to the Alentejo in 2014.

With the future of the programme in mind, as well as future developments in Science and Tourism, The Astro-tourism Society was created. The mentors to this Society are Apolonia Rodrigues, the creator of the Dark Sky® Alqueva Programme and president of Genuineland – Village Tourism, and Eduardo Fayos-Solà, the president of the Ulysses Foundation. The Astro-tourism Society, with its headquarters in Portugal, is international in scope, and has as its mission the promotion of a deeper knowledge of and a deeper emotional response to science, using tourism to achieve this aim.

José Calixto, President of the Municipal Authority of Reguengos de Monsaraz, states that this award is a "more than justly deserved" recognition of the Dark Sky® Alqueva Programme.

The Authority, in reaction to this great news for tourism in the Alentejo, has highlighted "the great degree of work and the professionalism of Dr Apolónia Rodrigues and of the members of the Dark Sky® Route as a fundamental factor in promoting the Alentejo and in creating high-value tourism in the region." José Calixto has also pointed out that "this award is more than justly deserved and brings to the world's attention one of the world's finest skies; the Dark Sky® Alqueva Programme now employs good practice at world-class level, and this fact fills us with pride."

More about Dark Sky® Alqueva and the Dark Sky® Alqueva Route

A major purpose of Dark Sky® Alqueva, the first place in the world to be given certification as a Starlight Tourism Destination, awarded by the Starlight Foundation, is to bring new life to the Alqueva region after nightfall, enabling visitors to get full enjoyment from this spacious land under a clear and starry sky, allowing them to wander wherever their imagination takes them.

Alqueva offers a nocturnal skyscape that has unique characteristics for a Dark Sky® Reserve.

It is within this context that the Lands of the Great Lake of Alqueva Partnership was created. It is coordinated by Genuineland – Village Tourism, the other partners being TGLA – Tourism in the Lands of the Great Lake of Alqueva, EDIA SA., and CCDRA – the Alentejo Regional Coordination and Development Commission. The Partnership's aim is to implement the Dark Sky® Alqueva Programme.

The Dark Sky® Alqueva Programme is a structuring project concerned with sustainable development, and envisages the European Commission's Agenda for a Competitive and Sustainable European Tourism being applied in the council areas of Alandroal, Barrancos, Moura, Mourão, Portel and Reguengos de Monsaraz. The Programme seeks to respond to challenges such as seasonality in tourism demand, the impact of tourist traffic, improvements to the quality of work in the tourism sector, improvements to the quality of communities faced with change, minimising the impact of both the use of resources and the production of waste, preserving and increasing the value of natural and cultural heritage, making the enjoyment of holidays possible for everyone, and using tourism as a tool for global sustainable development.

Thus, its aim is to create a tourist destination whose attraction is the enjoyment of a starry sky free of light pollution and to facilitate the provision of night-time activities for tourists. In order to develop the Dark Sky® Alqueva Programme, the public-private partnership that coordinates the project has created the Dark Sky® Alqueva Working Group, which brings together municipal authorities, companies working in the tourism and energy sectors, associations, and national and international experts.

Associated with Dark Sky® Alqueva, the Dark Sky® Alqueva Route is being created to make it possible for tourists to participate in nocturnal activities such as walking excursions, excursions on horseback, astronomy and stargazing activities, bird watching and the observation of nocturnal wildlife, among others. The Dark Sky® Alqueva Route includes a range of places for accommodating tourists, restaurants, bars and cafes, interpretative guidebooks and pamphlets, and tourism companies that specialise in providing for what is coming to be known as "astro-tourism".

At the end of 2011, Dark Sky® Alqueva was certified as a Starlight Tourism Destination, the first destination in the world to obtain such certification. This certification, awarded by the Starlight Foundation, recognises the quality of the night skyscape of the Alqueva area, as well as the tourism activities related to the sky, and is itself recognised for this purpose by UNESCO and by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

The Starlight Foundation was created in 2007 to put into force the Declaration in Defence of the Night Sky and the Right to Starlight, which classifies the night sky as a Scientific, Cultural and Environmental Heritage of Humanity. The declaration was signed and recognised by international organisations such as UNESCO, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and UNTWO.

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