The sky’s the limit for the astro-tourism company Starscapes

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There’s a chance that we don’t be gifted as Van Gogh to keep the beauty of a Starry Night alive forever, however that doesn’t mean we’re not captivated with the sky in night.

The young Paul Savio was no different.

When he went spent with his father as an infant, Paul was held captive by the night sky. As a child in Bengaluru Paul frequented the planetarium, and was a participant in contests and events organised in collaboration with NASA as well as ISRO.

After graduation at IIM Calcutta in 2010 and brief stints at Nokia, Airtel, and Samsung, Paul decided to follow his passions – and earn money.

As of 2015 Paul along with Ramashish Ray started a business called Starscapes Experiences, an astro-tourism startup that manages an observatory chain.

“We were working as corporate employees and came across a passion which turned into a business. Being able to see the potential and attempting to achieve it is very thrilling. We joined this industry to explore the possibility of creating something completely new,” Paul says.

The public? Anyone who is interested in the sky.

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The Gurugram-based company has private and public observatory sites in Kausani as well as Bhimtal in Uttarakhand and one in Ooty and an mobile observatory in Jaipur.

Starscapes is present throughout Goa, Pondicherry, and Madikeri in collaboration in partnership with Club Mahindra, a hospitality business that is part of the Mahindra Group. Visitors can visit the nearest dark skies which Starscapes offers the latest information and tools to stargaze.

The startup is also planning to develop Benital in India’s first Astro Village with a partnership together with Uttarakhand Tourism Board.

What it provides

The company hosts events like night sky shows, solar observations nightclubs, immersive science-based activities, and selfies with stars. These activities are supervised by Starscapes”StarGuides.

“We are determined to provide an astronomy experience for everyone. “Everyone” is the key word here. This isn’t just for those who are astronomy enthusiasts. It is designed for those seeking something fresh,” Paul says.

Starscapes offers hours-long daytime and nighttime experiences in its observatories. The daytime show costs between Rs 300 and 500. The evening show – the primary attraction – costs between Rs 500 to Rs 800.

“You can see the moon as well as the planets that are now visible as well as those rings that belong to Saturn as well as those satellites that orbit Jupiter and those phases of Venus which look similar to moon’s and also certain deep sky objects, such as Orion Nebula, which is 700 light years ahead of where stars are born. The entire show is on,” Paul says.

The program is led by trained staff members who speak about the past of trivia, science and the mythology that surrounds constellations, planetary bodies as well as deep-sky objects. The participants who sign up to attend the event are also taught to recognize specific stars and constellations.

If a person is unable to access an observation point, Starscapes brings the experience right to their doorsteps with portable tools for observation as well as temporary setups. But, the company stopped offering this service after the epidemic.

Workshops on how to build sun dials, rockets, and models of spacecrafts as well as rovers are organized for kids. Photographers and astronomers are invited to attend workshops on astrophotography with expert instructors. The cost for these classes can go upwards to $10,000.

Astro parties, and more

Starscapes has formed partnerships with small hotels and homestays to offer an astronomy experience at their facilities. Starscapes leverages its partnerships with them to educate the public about its services.

“Apart from that, many smaller homestays and hotels around our observatories organise astronomy experiences,” Paul states.

There are also three-hour astroparties that are designed for small groups and featuring activities such as stargazing sky observation, constellation hunting and astrophotography. These events cost around Rs40,000 (plus transportation for parties that are away from the centre). Each party can accommodate as many as 30 guests. It can be found at the most popular dark skies across India.

It also organizes events for residents of apartments and has formed partnerships in collaboration with JK Lakshmipat University in Jaipur and Shiv Nadar University in Dadri.

The business suffered due to the pandemic, and the startup was able to relaunch operations in 2021.

Starscapes has served 50,000 clients since its inception. It earned 35 lakh rupees during its first 10 months in 2021. The company is targeting growth of 11x over the next 12 months, and plans to boost its revenues to the figure of 3.8 crore.

Strive to be a star

Astro-tourism is growing in India as a component of ecotourism. It’s further backed by an upcoming Ministry of Tourism initiative to look into and debate “nature-based tourism”. The idea was presented via tourism officials of the Ministry via the webcast series “Dekho Apna Desh”.

Astro parks are being put to be established in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan under the State Department of Art and Culture. In Ladakh the government has collaborated together with the Indian Institute of Astrophysics to create an astro-tourism venture located in Hanle village.

The sky appears to be the limit, leading to the development of other players. Starscapes is competing with startups such as Space Arcade, based in Chennai Space Arcade and Delhi-based Spark Astronomy. Although some of the products offered by these companies are similar, Starscapes is the only one with observatories and agreements with hospitality companies.

Starscapes plans to open an observatory that will be located in Coorg and revive astro tours which take tourists to dark-sky locations in locations such as Spiti Valley Ladakh as well as other areas in the nation. The tours stopped due to restrictions and lockdowns on travel.

The company is also looking into further collaborations with colleges and schools to organize outings and excursions.

“We are testing various business models at the moment. We are also seeking someone who’s fascinated by astronomy as a field, and who is enthusiastic in it.” Paul says.

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