Thursday, March 22, 2007

Romania: Tourism to Take a Step Up

Romania’s already strong tourism sector is looking to meet the potential it and others see for it, with massive new investments in the pipeline and new plans for how to manage and promote the sector.

Building on a solid base of cultural attractions and modern facilities, Romania is expected to be the fastest-growing tourism industry in Europe for the next 10 years, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Tourism in Romania is a major contributor to the economy, contributing 4.8% of GDP in 2006, with revenue from the industry estimated at $8bn last year. Figures released in early March showed that just over 6.2m foreign tourists flocked to Romania in 2006, a 7.1% improvement over the previous year, with 520,000 arrivals in December alone.

However, despite predictions the sector will continue to expand by 7.4% annually for the next ten years, there are fears the industry’s very success could be its undoing. Unrestricted development in the Danube Delta and some of the country’s picturesque mountain regions, combined with insufficient services and facilities, threaten to undermine Romania’s appeal, according to some observers.

Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said on March 1 that it was time the tourism industry put its house in order and start dealing with realities rather than abstracts.

I am tired of strategies and plans, I want concrete projects with deadlines and measures, Tariceanu said during a meeting with industry leaders. This is how you should work. You will not be friends with me if you work with strategies. I want to see some concrete results.

The prime minister warned that high prices and unregulated construction work were threatening the appeal of the Danube Delta, one of Romanian’s most popular destinations for both domestic and foreign tourists.

Go to the Delta Danube and see the catastrophe, he said. In this way, the Delta will be transformed into the Tower of Babel. Tourist destinations will look like real monsters.

Romania also risks losing its own holidaymakers to Greece or Turkey unless specific measures for the improvement of services are taken, said Tariceanu.

The prime minister’s concerns were borne out by official figures showing that 692,000 Romanians went overseas in December, one of the country’s peak holiday seasons, a 31% increase on the same month in 2005.

While low cost airlines are already travelling to Bucharest, it appears Romanians, whose incomes are slowly rising, are using them to get out - rather than foreigners hopping aboard to visit the country.

Perhaps ironically, given Tariceanu’s criticism of plans and strategies, the March 1 meeting with industry representatives was called to announce that the government would draft a new master plan for developing Romanian tourism in conjunction with operators and the World Tourism Organisation.

The government has already committed $430m to develop tourism between 2005 and the end of this year, with much of the funding being directed toward the improvement and construction of nature trails, recreational ports and holiday spas.

National Tourism Authority (ANT) President Mihaela Barbuletiu believes the country should be working to attract visitors to the countryside, saying activities like horseback riding and local festivals can be popular for foreigners.

Another who feels Romania needs to act quickly to preserve its natural appeal is Count Tibor Kalnoky, the owner of an estate of traditional 19th century guesthouses in the mountainous area of Transylvania. According to Kalnoky, unrestricted development is not in keeping with the rural feel of the region and is harming the aesthetics of the countryside. The real potential is in the natural assets of the country, said Kalnoky.

For the rest of the world, mass resorts are over. The same thing happened in the 1960s and 1970s in the West and now these buildings are being destroyed, he added.

Romania is already well equipped to deal with a rising tide of tourists, having more than 4000 hotels, pensions and guest houses, and more coming opening all the time.

However, in the rush to capitalise on the tourist boom, Romania must be careful not to destroy the natural attractions of its seaside, mountains and traditions that are the country’s main draw cards.

Oxford Business Group

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