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Interview. Razvan Pascu: Ecotourism sun rising in Romania

Tourism has changed over the years, and nowadays many holidaymakers are looking for authentic experiences and a closer connection to nature and tradition. Razvan Pascu, tourism marketing consultant at Travel Communication Romania and Association Travel Focus, talked to BR about local ecotourism and the potential of various parts of the country.


By Georgiana Bendre


What does ecotourism mean? What does it mean for the country’s natural and cultural assets?

Ecotourism is that part of tourism that aims at the commitment and closeness of the tourist to the specifics of the travel destination, local customs and traditions. This is done through interactive strategies and projects and, at the same time, by encouraging responsible behaviour towards the environment, both from tourists, as well as those who provide touristic services. Ecotourism is a promise to the cultural and natural assets of any country, through which everyone can contribute to the promotion and conservation of the respective nation, as well as to the maximization of benefits for local communities.


In what activities can tourists take part, and what experiences can those that travel in ecotourist areas enjoy?

Tourists can become familiar with the cultural and social values of these areas, with the communities, getting involved in different activities that focus on connection with nature, and on traditional Romanian customs. For example, Astra Museum in Sibiu has developed a strategy based on ecotourism principles, organizing regular fairs, exhibitions, shows for visitors (most of them foreigners), aiming to develop local communities.


Will ecotourism help future generations?

The conservation and protection of these areas are the main principles of ecotourism activity. Therefore it focuses both on economic growth via sustainable tourism and visibility on the global market, as well as on the conservation of the country’s natural and cultural resources. Romania has a wide range of assets – natural areas, and traditions and customs that foreign tourists particularly like – which can bring profit and long-term wealth from this precious patrimony, if there is a strategic and responsible mentality, and well-planned marketing.


In Romania there are already two ecotouristic destinations approved by the European Commission:  Zarnesti-Piatra Craiului and Mara-Cosau-Creasta Cocosului. Have others with development potential already been proposed?

Romania has extraordinary touristic potential, but doesn’t benefit from appropriate positioning on the tourism market, or the efficient management of destinations so that they can get the international visibility they deserve. We have several areas that fulfill all the conditions for the development of all forms of sustainable tourism, such as Transylvania’s hills, the perimeter of Sibiu, the county of Dorna, the Aurochs’ province, and the Danube Delta.


Are there investments in marketing/advertising in Romania for the promotion of ecotourism?

There are no investments at all. Ecotourism involves long-term strategic thinking, prior documentation and the integral exploitation of the respective area, to identify its specifics. None of the authorities at central level has yet adopted long-term thinking. They want to check things fast, not knowing how long they will stay state secretaries. So it’s not possible to get any results, and if it hadn’t been for the private sector and NGOs, the situation would have been disastrous.


Are there ecotourism investors that have built something from scratch?

There are several successful examples in Romania, such as in the Danube Delta, a promising area for sustainable tourism practices, and in Maramures and Transylvania. The private sector had done everything it could. Both Romanians and foreigners have taken the investment risks in a country where the fiscal laws are changing monthly; they do promotion, they get things moving, but without any support from the authorities. For example, Green Village, a hotel concept built on sustainable principles, which is integrated perfectly in the middle of a Danube Delta reservation, attracts annually thousands of Romanian tourists and their counterparts from Austria, Germany, and the USA. By promoting entertainment possibilities in nature, gastronomic workshops, boat trips, photo tours and cultural tours, entrepreneurs have developed a real tourism culture in the middle of nature in a few areas of Romania.


Where does the demand for ecotourism come from? From Romanians or more from foreigners?

Foreigners have a special interest in this form of tourism, as they are fascinated by green areas with ancient woods, mountain tracks, natural areas, and the communities that pass on the handicrafts and occupations of the old generations. Unfortunately, most foreign tourists discover them randomly, because we don’t have a concrete touristic profile, efficient marketing, or a portfolio that comprises all these touristic objectives.

Is tourism development dependent on the development of an infrastructure?

Infrastructure is compulsory for the promotion of tourism in general, not only for ecotourism. But it’s not the number one priority. Romania is among the countries with the weakest infrastructural development, which gradually makes tourists lose their interest, so we have to redouble our efforts to compensate for these drawbacks.

Do you make info-trips, related to ecotourism, at Travel Communication Romania?

Yes, we try as much as possible to promote these destinations in our activity at Travel Communications and Association Travel Focus. We work with some Romanian areas and with some entrepreneurs and authorities who want to promote places, so we have helped with the promotion of the Danube Delta, of Szekely land, Alba Iulia city, Covasna county, and others.


RAZVAN PASCU is consultant in tourism marketing, vice-president of Travel Focus Association and managing partner at Travel Communication Romania. He graduated from the Marketing faculty of Bucharest University of Economic Studies (ASE) in 2008 and also holds a master degree in Communication at National University of Political and Administrative Studies (SNSPA).

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Simona Halep suffers shock loss to Osaka at Indian Wells

World No. 1 Simona Halep suffered a shock defeat at the hands of unseeded Japanese player Naomi Osaka, whom she had defeated in their previous three meetings. The Romanian bowed before the final in straight sets, with Osaka prevailing 6-3 6-0 in 64 minutes.

So far, Halep had an impressive record this year, having lost only once, in the final of the Australian Open. In her second defeat of the year, the Romanian player showed a drop in form in the first set, at 3-3, and never managed to recover, while her opponent showed composure and resilience. Osaka broke serve five times and had percentage of 67 percent behind her first serve. Halep, on the other hand, converted just one of the seven break points she created in the match and landed just 56 percent of her first serves.

The 20-year old Osaka will play Daria Kasatkina for the title. On the road to the final, the Japanese player downed Sharapova, Radwanska and Pliskova.

Simona Halep will play next in Miami, at the Miami Open (March 20 – April 2).




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Influential Americans that ‘called the shots’ in Ceausescu’s Romania

Although Romania had a Soviet-type economic planning during the brutal dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, the country had contacts with Western powers and some American executives had access to Romania’s leadership and were able to open local subsidiaries for foreign companies despite the tight control of the communist system.

Milton Frederick Rosenthal, a former chairman of the chemical giant Engelhard Corporation, said in 1987 that the company had done about USD 28 billion worth of business with Romania over the last 40 years, according to an article published in Rosenthal, who died in 2005 at 91, was also chairman of the Romanian-US Economic Council.  Engelhard Minerals and Chemical Corp was later taken over by German chemical giant BASF.

Rosenthal was among the strongest backers of the decision of the US Congress to grant the most favored national treatment clause for Romania.

“Romania began receiving MFN treatment on an annual basis under a Presidential waiver from the freedom-of-emigration requirements in the Jackson-Vanik amendment on August 3, 1975. On June 28, 1988, the President announced his decision to allow the waiver to expire in response to the Romanian government’s decision to renounce the renewal of its MFN status subject to the terms of Jackson-Vanik. Romania’s MFN status and its eligibility for export credits expired on July 3, 1988,” according to a Congress document.

Rosenthal was born in New York City. He graduated from City College in 1932 and received his law degree at Columbia in 1935. He served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army judge advocate general’s office in World War II before joining the Stinnes Corporation as secretary and treasurer in 1946, according to the New York Times.

In 1976, Mugur Isarescu, at that time a 27-year old researcher at the Institute of Global Economy, was set to meet with Rosenthal at the New York HQ of Engelhard Minerals and Chemical Corp, according to documents from the National Archives of the US. They were set to discuss about the trade relations between Romania and the US. After the toppling of Ceausescu, Isarescu became the governor of the National Bank of Romania, a position he holds to date.

George G. Gellert is the chairman and CEO of the Gellert Global Group of companies, which includes a network of food importers and distributors, served as the vice chair of the United States-Romanian Economic Council.

On December 27 1989, with the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu at an end, the Chicago Tribune quoted Gellert in an article about the outlook of trade between Romania and the US.

“I think our trade`s going to increase,” said George Gellert, chairman of Atalanta Corp., a food importer based in Elizabeth, N.J. Atalanta imports meat and cheese from Romania. At that time, the company also had a longstanding joint venture with Romania in London.

According to his biography, Gellert was one of the first businessmen invited to trade with China in the 1970s. He was also director of the East-West Trade Council.

Another executive from the US-Romanian Economic Council decided to venture into Romania. Back in 1974, Gabriel Hauge, chairman of the American section of the association, had announced that Manufacturers Hanover Trust, the nation’s fourth largest bank, had signed an “agreement in principle” with Romanian authorities to open a branch in Bucharest, probably in the middle of 1974, according to the New York Times. At that time, he said that this would be the first actual Western banking branch in a Soviet‐bloc country.

American rabbi Arthur Schneier also met on several occasions with Ceausescu.

“Schneier, who is also president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, met with Ceausescu at the offices of the Communist Party Central Committee in Bucharest. They reviewed current problems on the international scene which, Ceausescu stressed, required supreme efforts for peaceful resolution of conflicts. In that connection, he underlined the need to combat neo-fascist, terrorist and racist activities and deplored the new anti-Semitic manifestations in various parts of the world, the WJC reported,” according to an article published by

Matters related to the Jewish community in Romania were on the agenda during talks between Schneier and Ceausescu, according to media reports.

According to a presentation posted on the foundation’s website, Schneier is internationally known for “his leadership on behalf of religious freedom, human rights and tolerance with specific interest in China, Russia, Central Europe and the Balkans.”

Ceausescu went to the US four times and had official talks with three American presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. He visited the US two times during the Nixon administration.

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Interview. Daniel Truica ( Romania is a destination chosen mainly by Diaspora

Passionate about tourism, during a period when agencies existed mostly offline, Daniel Truica founded the online tourism agency in 2007. Almost 11 years later, has become one of the most popular toursim agencies. BR talked exclusively to Daniel and found out more about the agency, how it started, how the tourists have changed during time and which are his plans.


How did the idea of founding come up?

The idea came more than 10 years ago, when the tourism industry existed mostly offline. It’s a funny story because at that time we had an office on Magheru boulevard and I was walking down the street with my partners discussing about setting up a tourism agency and after 200 meters of walk we passed by 5 tourism agencies much more impressive than ours. That moment we decided to be in the online field because we felt that the market will enter online and there is less competition. That was the pragmatic side. Besides, we were all passionate about travelling, we lived abroad different period of time and we saw in travelling more than checking some attraction points to a destination. I personally see travelling as a fantastic instrument of learning, of spiritual wealth and finally, of knowledge. It seemed fantastic to facilitate this process for as many people as possible.


How do you see the evolution of competition on the tourism agency market in Romania since was set up until now?

When we launched we had one important competitor, which meanwhile entered insolvency. But it took us a lot to understand that in fact we compete with all the OTAs worldwide, because any online agency is at a click distance. The competition increased fantastically as clients migrated to online massively. If we’re talking about flight tickets, for example, the offline market is negligible, everything is online now. The market matured meanwhile.


Do you remember which was the first offer sold?

It was a flight ticket to Madrid paid by a client with the card. At that time, only a third of bookings were acquired with the bank card, compared with 80 percent at the moment. For me it was fantastic that the first acquisition was made with the card.


Which is the technological impact over sales in touristic packages? Are there investments in this respect?

For, technology is the first area where our investments go. Not only we aim to respond our tourists’ needs when it comes about online booking of flight tickets and vacations, but also we try to be ahead them. Our aim is to anticipate what instruments would help them to implement. But in 10 years of activity we learned that pure technology never satisfies 100 percent the needs of a tourist. That’s why we have a support team available on the phone or online.

How did the tourists’ behavior change over time, do they know to choose better, are tourists more demanding now?
From my point of view, the market evolves to normality. I’ve frequently heard players in the industry (not only in our country) saying that the tourist is more informed now, as it’s a negative thing. It’s true that tourists are more informed and it’s normal to be that way. But, as in any industry, no matter how informed you are, there are situation in which you don’t know what to do with that information. The role of a professional is to build the product that you need starting from this information.

Another absolutely normal trend is the fact that the price, which has an important role in acquisition, is not anymore the only factor that tourists take into account. The consumer’s trust is the seller of services has also an important role. You need to have the best prices, but it’s no longer a differentiator.


Did the Romanian tourist flow abroad increased? If yes, to which destinations?

The market tends to mature. This thing is also seen in the destinations chosen by Romanian tourists. Each year, in top of destination where Romanians travel are the big European cities- London, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, but there are also new destinations with increases of high percentages. For example, in 2017, the destinations with the most dynamic evolution regarding the flight tickets are Island (+68 percent), Morocco (+71 percent), Israel (56 percent) and Finland (+45 percent).


What about the flow of foreign tourists coming in Romania? Did it increase?

I think that Romania is a destination chosen mainly by diaspora. We see increases in Romanian destination (which is the second country as destination in our sales) and these travels are made by Romanians. Also the bookings of flight tickets for internal routes increased. Last year it the number of flight tickets sold for internal destinations increased by 29 percent.


Which are the main issues of the tourism that obstruct the development?

If we’re talking about the incoming tourism, there are many issues. The main issue is not that we don’t have what to offer from touristic point of view, but the infrastructure. We have a small country where we can facilitate the incoming tourism with a road and railway infrastructure. As the beautiful things that we have to offer are less in cities, the transport has to be facilitated for traditional tourism area to the foreign tourists. The second problem is the governmental strategy of encouraging the Romanian tourism to foreigners, focusing on the seaside, on ski areas. However, we have all we need to promote the traditional tourism, on which foreigners are impressed. We have everything but the easy access to those objectives.


How much of the Romania-U traffic is represented in a year by Romanians who live abroad?

I would say that over 60 percent of the traffic is generated by diaspora and Romanians who work abroad. It means not only who go to work there, but also the visits of friends and relatives.


How did the sales evolved during time?

Each year since it was launched, we had two-digit percent increases. In the first years we had a high increase, even by 500 percent year-on-year, and now we have somewhere around 15-30 percent.


Where do the highest demands come from?

Besides Romania, most of the bookings come from the countries where Romanians choose to live or work: UK, France, Spain, Germany, etc.


What turnover do you estimate for 2018? estimates an increase by over 30 percent in 2018 for Romanian agency, meaning a turnover of approximately EUR 8.5 mln and total transactions of approximately EUR 75 million.


What are your plans for the next years?

We’ll continue to invest each year in the technological platform and bring our clients innovative services and products.

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Lee (IMF): ANAF’s IT system is outdated and has a negative impact on tax collection

Jaewoo Lee, the chief of the IMF’s Romania delegation, said in a press conference that the National Fiscal Administration Agency (ANAF)’s IT system is outdated, and that this has a material impact on the efficiency of tax collection.

“We understand that there is a programme set up with the World Bank that is currently pending. The final decision on it will be between the Government and the World Bank, and it has not yet been made. We believe that some action should be taken either through this programme or otherwise in order to strengthen the IT system,” Lee said.

“Upgrading the IT system should be one of the main priorities in order to improve the efficiency of tax collection,” the official added.

The Vice President of the ANAF, Daniel Tudor, had announced in February that the programme to upgrade the agency’s IT system with the help of the World Bank is experiencing delays and that authorities are in contact with the Bank in order to find solutions. He added that the ANAF is very interested in the upgrade and in investing in this area.

A report by the Accounts Court for 2016 showed that the reduction in investments over the last years has affected the IT infrastructure of the ANAF and that the current situation is critical.


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IMF head for Romania: The economy is set to grow by 5 pct this year, fiscal moderation needed

The head of the mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Romania, Jaewoo Lee, said that the local economy will grow by 5 percent this year, after last year’s gain of 7 percent – the biggest in the European Union.

Lee said that the on the medium term, the economic growth will slow down to around 3 percent. He cited fiscal moderation and tighter fiscal policy as some of the measures that can support growth going forward.

“It was an economic growth based on consumption. There is need for moderation and a stable rhythm,” said Lee, in a press conference, at the end of a 10-days review mission of the IMF.

The IMF representative warned that the Romania’s growth potential is threatened by the fiscal deficits coupled with the reduce level of investments.

Lee urged authorities to do more in terms of the amount of taxes collected to the state budget.

“These poor results regarding the collection of taxes show the need for the urgent reorganization of the fiscal authorities and the IT systems,” said the head of the IMF mission. He added that the modernization of the IT system has to be the “priority” of authorities.

Lee suggested that the reduction of corruption also contributes to the improvement of tax revenue.

“The progress of Romania against corruption was acknowledged at international level and has to continue,” said Lee.

On the banking system, the IMF said that the lenders are well capitalized but their exposure in the real estate sector is high.

“The proposed limitation of the debt service to income can improve the situation of the borrowers and should be enforced for all mortgage loans, including for the Prima Casa Program. The strategy of the government to gradually reduce the program is welcomed,” said the IMF.

The IMF added that the authorities should avoid the enforcement of measures that cap interest rates on loans and the prices at which individuals can buyback receivables purchased by third parties.

“The initiatives that impact the financial system should be avoided. Several recent initiatives, if adopted, would reduce the credit granted to the real economy and would slow down the process of solving the issue of non-performing loans, negatively impacting the financial stability,” said Lee.


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Finance minister: Romanian administration is outdated in its mindset

Eugen Teodorovici, the Public Finance minister, said today that the Romanian administration is old – not biologically, but in its mindset and its openness to change, and young people hold the solution.

Teodorovici said that younger people who want to change the way things are done need support and that it’s the only way for things to improve, so that young people can stay in Romania without being tempted to leave the country.

He described a conversation he had with a young man, who told him about the connection between financial culture and a better collection of taxes, because when citizens have a better understanding of the state’s need for financing and when they trust the state, a voluntary compliance can be reached. Teodorovici also said that he asked the man to be part of his ministerial team and be in charge of communication, and that he replied that he would think about it.

The National Bank of Romania organised a conference on Friday on the subject of financial education and inclusion.

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Isarescu: In the 1990s it was inconceivable to propose a law without an impact assessment

Mugur Isarescu, the Governor of the National Bank of Romania (BNR), said at a conference today that the fact that laws are being discussed without impact assessments being conducted should give us something to think about.

Isarescu stated that during the 1990s, when important legislative reforms were being done in Romania, there was no excuse for not having an impact assessment for a law, no matter how soon the reform had to be made.

“Coming up with a law that simply says that the same thing is being done in the European Union is not enough. First you have to see what it’s like in the EU, because it’s not standardised from a financial or banking point of view. There are many differences. Then I would ask: how many steps are there from saying we want loans in Romania to be like in the EU to proposing a law stating we need to have the same standard of living as the EU? Only a few. We’ll end up with some kind of law that says we must live as well as they do in the European Union,” Isarescu said.

Isarescu added that those who are involved in financial education need to have this factor in mind: “We’ve received international awards in financial education, but we haven’t managed to go much further than the walls of this building.”

The governor said that it is dangerous to speak only inside an institution and that messages can’t reach the population, which has to be aware of financial concepts in order to deal with current financial products and the complexity of daily life. He also mentioned that BNR is celebrating 10 years of being involved in major projects for financial education.

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Workforce crisis in Romania? It’s rather a negligible problem compared to other EU member states, official data show

The impressive economic growth Romania experienced during the last few years put increasing pressure on employers to find skilled workers in order to expand their businesses, but recent official data show Romania is far from being considered in a ‘workforce crisis’ situation.

Eurostat, the European Union statistical office, showed on Friday that job vacancy rate in Romania fell 0.2 percentage points year on year in the last quarter of 2017, to 1.1 percent, the eighth lowest rate among the 28 EU member states.

“Compared with the same quarter of the previous year and among the Member States for which data are comparable over time, the job vacancy rate in the fourth quarter of 2017 rose in twenty-three Member States, remained stable in Bulgaria and Spain, but fell in Greece and Romania (both -0.2 percentage points),” Eurostat noticed.

This evolution is in sharp contrast with the impressive economic growth Romania experienced last year, posting a 7 percent GDP increase, the highest rate in EU.

But experts warn the structure of Romania’s economy and of the local workforce has a bad effect on employment.

“What kind of workforce are we talking about? The entrepreneurs complain they don’t find workers, but Romania has a low-tech economy with low wages, not very attractive for employees. In Bucharest, you can see everywhere announcements on shops’ windows: ‘We hire retail staff!’ But these are jobs paid with minimum wages”, Cristian Pârvan, general secretary of AOAR (an employers’ association), told Business Review.

This retail workforce shortage is a consequence of the fact that much of the economic growth in Romania is the product of a consumer bonanza, stimulated by years of wage-led growth government policy.

But the real labour shortage is currently experienced in EU by the advanced economies, with sofisticated structures and high wages.

Among the EU member states, the highest job vacancy rates in the fourth quarter of 2017 were recorded in the Czech Republic (4.4 percent), Belgium (3.4 percent), Germany (2.8 percent), the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (both 2.6 percent), according to Eurostat.

During the last few years, the Romanian government adopted a strategy of wage-led growth, stimulating household consumption and GDP growth rates, but this model has generated larger fiscal and current account deficits.

Many economists insist Romania should change the economic model in order to obtain real long-term economic and social development.

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