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My role is Tourism Development Strategy Coordinator for the Monti Dauni area in Puglia, Italy. I carry out this task for Meridaunia scarl.

Meridaunia was born as a Local Action Group (LAG) to manage, as the implementer of the Leader II Community Initiative, the community funds aimed at the development of rural and marginal areas with economic development problems in the territory of the Monti Dauni Municipalities. It's mission is to be a real "Development Agency" of the territory, with an overall function of support for the development and creation of business and employment.

Meridaunia's institutional task consists essentially in the elaboration and implementation of territorial development strategies, through the involvement of the largest number of local socio-economic actors (public and private) as well as local communities.

Among my main tasks within the company structure: positioning of the Monti Dauni brand on the tourist market; creation of new products; identification of new marketing tools and channels; destination communication (storytelling); organization and management of events; marketing of experiences and packages; participation in fairs and tourism exchanges; etc ...

My main research interests concern experiential tourism, especially for niche and authentic destinations, where the visitor can genuinely get in touch with the local culture.

As an architect I am interested in cultural tourism and, having held the role of director of the first environmental experience center of the Puglia Region (in Roseto Valfortore), also in the forms of ecotourism and sustainable environmental tourism.

I consider the Dark Skies Ecotourism project an incredible tool for strengthening and qualifying niche tourism systems naturally predisposed to slow and sustainable forms of tourism.

The Monti Dauni, as a remote rural area, far from large urban agglomerations, preserve intact environmental values, cultural authenticity and obviously ample possibilities for developing forms of Dark Sky Tourism.

At the moment, most of the ecotourism experiences offered are daytime, with the exception of some glamping proposals, night hiking and environmental education appointments with sound calls for birdlife (birds of prey) and nocturnal fauna (wolves).

However, the interest and potential of the area is demonstrated by the increasingly frequent images posted on social networks of starry skies taken from the peaks of the Dauni Mountains.

Therefore, outlining a strategy for the development of forms of nocturnal ecotourism and dark sky activities is extremely interesting for the territory Meridaunia deals with.

Everyone, it is time to meet our Dark Sky Partners! First up we have Tony Johnston…

My role is Director of Research Development for the Faculty of Business and Hospitality at TUS Midlands Midwest, a regional university based in Ireland. I work on the Athlone campus of our university, focusing on research mentoring, quality frameworks, and external funding applications and management. My main research interests are in tourism geographies and development, particularly how tourism interests with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

I am also interested in dark tourism, a form of tourism to sites with strong associations with death or disaster. I have presented my research at the Wellcome Collection, the Royal Anthropology Library of the British Museum, and the Prince's Teaching Institute. I regularly contribute to articles in tourism media, including CNN Travel. Our university is a founding member of the Regional University Network (RUN-EU), a partnership of European universities with similar interests in teaching, research, and community, society, and environmental impact.

I am fascinated by the Dark Skies Ecotourism project. It’s fantastic to work on a project that can benefit the economy, environment, and society simultaneously. Like much of Europe, Ireland has marvellous potential for preserving the beauty of the night sky. The Midlands has excellent potential for capitalising on this form of tourism. There are both public and private sites that have already demonstrated recent and historical potential. Many readers, for example, will have encountered on social media some of the excellent photography of the Milky Way taken over the Sky Train sculpture in Lough Boora Discovery Park in County Offaly. Other readers may be familiar with the astronomy heritage at Birr Castle. The lakes, forests, and heritage properties in the Midlands, alongside iconic geographical features such as the River Shannon and Slieve Bloom Mountains, offer enormous potential for innovation in this field. Initiatives from TUS Athlone, the tourism authorities, local councils, authorities, and others will surely support further opportunities.

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