Romania has an image problem. In the West, people associate Romania with the region known as Transylvania – which conjures up an image of misty forests, supernatural creatures, ancient castles, horse-drawn carriages and of course, vampires. But despite the hysteria of rabid, vampire-loving fans and the flood of new vampire themed movies and books (which shows no sign of slowing), Romanians have for decades tried to distance themselves from the theme that they are best known for.
But provoked by a worsening economy and a declining level of tourism, in 2013 the Romanian Federation of Tourism and Service Employers put out a press release saying that they are ready to embrace their identity, as home to Dracula and other supernatural/literary figures. This decision is probably due to the fact that the majority of tourists visiting Romania are vampire enthusiasts, and that without vampires, Romania doesn’t really have anything that sets itself apart from other Eastern European destinations.
According to an article I found that was written almost one year ago:
“Finally the local authorities in Transylvania understood that the Dracula myth represents an unrivaled vehicle for promoting tourism,” Dan Matei Agathon, president of the tourism federation, said in announcing the plan, according to the national news agency of Romania, Agerpres. “All those places full of history in Transylvania can now finally become tourism destinations internationally renowned, with the benefit not only to the tourism in the region, but to our economy in general.”
The Federation of Tourism and Service Employers said Dracula tourism could be a “huge” boon if it is rebranded and packaged in a modern manner using European funds through 2020. Last year, the agency teamed up with S&S Travel to launch a pilot project in select Asian markets called the “Discover Dracula Tour” in an attempt to enhance foreign tourist flow. The project was to be expanded into the U.S. and across Europe but appears to be inactive in 2013.
Unfortunately, that particular plan seems to have fallen through – the “Discover Dracula Tour” website is no longer active. There are a handful of Dracula Tours on offer, but they are small and cheesy. Real vampire fans want to connect with the authentic history, not a cheap reproduction. As a researcher with an emphasis on comparative literature, history, with a passionate interest in early supernatural literature, travel and culture, I’m confident I can do better. In fact, with minimal resources, I’m positive I can double Romanian tourism in just one year.
You see, it isn’t enough to improve infrastructure and offer tours of Romanian landmarks and historical sites. You have to make them relevant. You have to make them cool. You have to make people care. The easiest way to reach potential visitors is through the medium they are already consuming – supernatural romance novels or vampire erotica. These books are already on the peripheral of Romanian based themes, but the connection has to be drawn out better. The best way to do is this is by offering free stays, events or programs for writers who excel in this genre and have an established platform.
You also need to make sure the offers and programs align with the progressive idealism of a modern, globalized economy (eco-friendly, authenticity, economy-stabilizing). It isn’t enough to offer a fun tour or opportunity, visitors need to know that the “tourist-footprint” is small and being ethically managed. You need a program devoted to sustainability, both cultural and environmental.
I’ve outlined some of my ideas in my Fulbright program application. Even though my project will generate more tourism and increase awareness and interest in visiting Romania, with more resources I could make a vastly bigger impact – that’s why I also created a Kickstarter campaign to buy Bran castle. Although it’s unlikely to be funded, when I run it in October media outlets hungry for Halloween-related stories will be quick to pick it up. I’m using it as an example of how to create viral content to get free exposure and increase awareness.
Although Bran castle is obviously the most famous landmark, and already has a program of Dracula tourism, it can and should be used much more effectively. Some of my ideas are outlined in the Kickstarter project plan. But really, I could make a similar impact with a smaller or lesser known castle, mansion or estate.
I’m actually planning another Kickstarter campaign for 2014, to raise $1million for a writer’s retreat/co-working space. I will be shopping for castles and real estate in Europe. My project and campaign will be highly publicized, and I have powerful online friendships that I can use to make sure the campaign gets a ton of free traffic.
I’ll also write a non-fiction book and make a documentary about restoring the castle and running writing programs there.
But I may choose a castle in Italy, Hungary, German or elsewhere.
Unless you give me a castle in Romania
I’ll bet there are plenty of impressive old estates or castles in Romania that are falling down or owned by the government (or for sale cheap).
For about a million dollars, you could buy one and help me fix it up to use as a writing retreat for Romania-specific fiction and non-fiction books. I have a great deal of experience with big projects, managing staff and a large budget, and organizing events. I also have a large following in self-publishing circles. The projects will be highly visible and I will continue to run news-worthy events or programs to encourage viral content. We will have contests to chose which writers get to come over and stay. The project itself, and the hundreds of Romania-inspired books it generates, will work continuously to keep Romania in the popular imagination and encourage tourism.
After the initial program, I will continue to run the castle as a major tourism destination, bringing thousands of people into Romanian each year and ensuring that Romania remains on everyone’s list of places to visit.
Why not just let me borrow a castle?
To run successful tourism destinations, the locations have to be privately owned and managed. If managed by only government employees, important decisions are left in the hands of a bureaucratic committee, which can be slow and disconnected from the real desires of would-be tourists.
As a small business owner, my own reputation (and fortune) will be invested in this project, which means I will tirelessly work to improve services, visitor satisfaction, and outreach. The castle will no doubt cost a lot of money to maintain, which means I will need to continue bringing in new tourists to keep things running.
However, we will make sure our influx of tourism benefits the region by supporting local artisans and farmers, providing a lot of jobs and spending a lot of money in the community. Giving away a castle to be used for authors writing Romanian-themed literature is a media event in itself, the single act will generate more free publicity in international newspapers and media than all other efforts.
Romania doesn’t need a theme park, it just needs better branding, smart online media marketing, and an effort to reconnect with its major association in Western minds – the link between its geography and history, and the literature of paranormal and fantasy fiction. Now that Romania is ready to embrace its role in the inspiration of supernatural literature, the danger is it will build cheap and tacky tourist destinations and theme parks, when visitors are really looking for a more authentic experience.
Once I get started, my castle-project will generate a great deal of tourism through constant blogging, updates through the restoration project, my documentary and book, and all the other bloggers/writers who stay with me. A one time decision (giving me a castle) and small investment will put Romanian tourism on autopilot – just give me a castle and you can relax for the next few years and watch Romanian travel increase.
So if you’re trying to think up new ways to use your budget and increase tourism in Romania, look no further. Find me a castle. Let me come over and transform your tourism industry. Get in touch with me for a more in-depth business plan or questions.