No, not her.
Since the heyday of Elena Udrea the Romanian Ministry of Tourism has led something of a nomadic existence. Since losing its stand-alone status in 2014 it has at times been part of the Small Business Ministry, the Ministry of the Economy and the Ministry of Regional Development. In the new, extended cabinet of Sorin Grindeanu, Tourism once again has a dedicated seat, with the unfortunate soul occupying it being Mircea Dobre.
To see Dobre’s short-term future does not require any kind of clairvoyance. He will attempt to rebrand Romania for foreign tourists (for the zillionth time), almost certainly using the same, tired old clichés as just about every Minister of Tourism who has gone before: happy peasants in traditional costumes, pristine mountain pastures, monasteries, castles, dancing waiters at Caru cu bere, the beach at Mamaia and flocks of birds flying over the marshes of the Danube Delta. Conferences will be organised. Romania will take part with great fanfare at international travel fairs. We may even see a new logo, commissioned for a whopping fee no doubt. The results will be negligible.
What we don’t expect to see is anything resembling a coherent strategy that addresses the real needs of businesses (big and small) which operate in the Romanian tourism sector. That’s partly because few of those needs actually have anything to do with the Ministry of Tourism, whose remit (and budget, we assume) will be extremely limited, but also because of the unhappy habit Romanian tourism chiefs have of wanting to reinvent the wheel. (The wrong wheel, at that).
We might be wrong of course, and we hope we are, because this time there really is no need for a politician with little knowledge of the tourism industry to start interfering in an area that – whisper it – had been showing real signs of blossoming.
Until Dobre came along the person responsible for Romanian tourism was Anca Pavel-Nedea, director of the National Tourism Association (ANT). Late last year the ANT published this 173-page strategy document which is not all bad. In fact, as these things go it is rather good.
The problems the report identifies (especially the political considerations on pages 25 and 26, if you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing) reiterate the kind of things we have banging on about for years: lack of transport infrastructure remains the biggest handicap facing Romanian tourism, while the politicisation of tourism creates instability and does little to encourage investment in the industry. Pavel-Nedea is not an entirely uncontroversial figure but in the year and a bit she has been in the job she appears to have grasped exactly what the problems with Romanian tourism are and how they might be addressed (or she has employed people to do that in her stead). Either way, what she has come up with is a more than decent starting point and in an ideal world the new minister would take the document and use it as a blueprint for his term in office. We doubt that will happen. Given how the directors of state institutions are currently being sacked at a rate of knots there is not even a guarantee that Nedea will be able to keep her job.
Here are four things in the strategy document which particularly caught our eye.
1. The need to involve all stakeholders, political or otherwise, in the development of Romanian tourism
The potential of Romania as a tourist destination will never be fully realised unless there is a cross-ministerial consensus regarding the need to construct or update road and rail infrastructure. This will require the cooperation of many government departments, including Regional Development, Agriculture, Education and Environment. We might add that if the Minister of Tourism’s job is anything, it is to serve as a lobbyist in the cabinet for the tourism industry.
2. Marketing should be carried out by segment to specific, carefully identified target markets
Hallelujah! No more adverts trying to sell everything Romania offers to everyone everywhere. No, the ANT proposes making use of data from the National Statistics Institute to carefully target the kind of people who might be interested in certain types of holidays. For example: hiking holidays to the Brits, city breaks to thirty-something Slovaks, Mamaia to young Polish party people (among others), casinos to Israelis. Market research should be carried out every year and targets adjusted accordingly. It’s not rocket science, but this kind of joined-up thinking is new to the crazy world of Romanian tourism.
3. Relaunch of the website romania.travel
Romania’s official tourism website (romania.travel) is currently rubbish. A simple and cheap-looking WordPress affair it is packed with out-of-date information, and is still making use of content copied from (or perhaps inspired by?) our own Bucharest In Your Pocket guide (you can read more on that here). What’s interesting is that whereas we are continually updating and revising the information we publish, Romania’s official travel website does not see fit to do the same. Making the website better and more relevant does not have to cost a fortune (although we can almost guarantee that it will…) Take a look at the new website of the Ministry of Health, launched in November by then (and sadly no longer) minister Vlad Voiculescu. Simple, attractive and useful it was done in-house by the ministry’s own staff with no need for expensive outside contractors.
4. Romanian tourism is not in as bad a state as is often believed
We wrote about this years ago: the numbers are actually quite good, and – most importantly – growing. More than 2.22 million foreign tourists visited Romania in 2015, almost double 2010’s figure. It is still way below Bulgaria (5.5 million foreign visitors last year), but that is another issue: stop the comparisons with Bulgaria.
Bulgaria has three ski resorts worth the name (Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo), Romania has one (Poiana Brasov). Bulgaria’s coast has a summer season almost two months longer than Romania’s: comparisons are therefore not entirely fair.
For the one millionth time, Romania is not, never will be, nor should it attempt to be a mass tourism destination. It is a niche destination. The ANT seems to have realised that. Let’s hope the new minister takes at least some of its recommendations on board.