The purpose of this study was to understand the importance of niche market-based tourism routes in a sustainable rural development context. This study proposes a framework for tourism route development with Astro Tourism as the focal niche. Sustainable tourism routes occur when strong linkages are established between attractions, products and services in rural areas. Having an integrated approach between local, provincial and national stakeholders, from both the private and public sector will create job opportunities and by so doing, alleviate poverty. Towns in the Karoo rural node of the Northern Cape Province in the Republic of South Africa were selected as a case study for the research, where Astro Tourism, as an emerging niche market, is gaining momentum due to the establishment of two world-class astronomy projects, namely the South African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Carnarvon.
Mixed methods were employed to investigate the sustainability of tourism product development through exploring the experience and perceptions of the various role-players. These included the tourists, local communities, tourism businesses and private stakeholders in the astronomy and tourism disciplines, as well as government representatives. The researcher obtained a holistic view of the different role-players by including a variety of research instruments. Focus group sessions were held with local community members in the towns selected; in-depth interviews were conducted with government representatives; semi-structured questionnaires were distributed to relevant stakeholders and structured questionnaires were distributed to tourism businesses and tourists. This amalgamation of research instruments ensured a dataset of high quality. The analysis of the consolidated data from the different role-players provided unique information for sustainable destination development from both the demand-side and supply-side perspectives. Unique access allowed the researcher to engage directly with stakeholders through various platforms, all adding invaluable data to the research. This study contributes to the existing literature on sustainable rural development and niche market-based tourism routes. The literature review also deliberates on Astro Tourism and space tourism as distinctive contributors to tourism product development. As an outcome, the study presents a framework depicting Astro Tourism framed within a tourism route as mechanism to develop rural areas in developing countries.