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Can rural tourism foster local development? Perspectives on the future of rural tourism in Romania.


Rurality in much of Europe is changing. Rural space cannot be considered any longer as being destined only for agriculture, since it has been increasingly used for second homes (Tress, 2002; Hall & Muller 2004; Rye & Berg 2011; Norris & Winston 2010; Ellingsen & Hidle 2012; Overvag 2011) or for recreation and tourism activities (Lane, 1994; Roberts & Simpson, 1999; Long et al., 2000; Wilson et al., 2001; Briedenhann & Wickens, 2004; Hall & Kirkpatrick, 2005; Cawly & Gillmore, 2008; Hall, 2005; Vanslembrouck & VanHuylenbroeck, 2005; Baum, 2011; Wang et al, 2003).

Rural tourism, a labour intensive activity, has the potential to be a substantial source of employment (Hall, 2005), as well as a source of additional income for farmers following the economic diversification of rural areas into tourism by provision of services, experiences and products (Sharply & Vaas, 2006; Crouch, 2006; Fleischer & Tchetchik, 2005).

Over the last years, extensive research has been carried on by researchers from various fields focusing mainly on the heritage resources for rural tourism in Romania (Petrea, 2004; Ilies, 2008; Ilies et al., 2008; Cianga, 2006; Turnok, 2006; Benedek & Deszi, 2006; Dinu et al., 2011; Dinu & Cioaca, 2008; Mazilu & Dumitrescu, 2012; Mazilu, 2010; Simon et al., 2012; Popescu & Badita, 2011) and the evolution and potential of this sector (Walket et al., 1995; Ploaie & Turnok, 1998, 2001; Simon et al., 2012).

Literature review

Tourism industry relies heavily on attractions, be it primary or secondary ones, which make a destination more appealing and attractive to tourists. Attractions have two main functions--'entice, lure and stimulate interest in travel' and provide visitor satisfactions (Gunn & Vaar, 2002). One of the most important choices travellers have to make relates to the selection of the destination for spending the holiday (Pizam & Mansfeld, 1999). The appeal of rural areas for tourism and recreation lies in their intrinsic rural characteristics, as well as in the range and quality of attractions and facilities (Albaladeho Pina & Diaz Delfa, 2005). The countryside capital (Countryside Agency 2002, 2004), including natural (wildlife populations), built (rural settlements) and social (local cultural traditions) capital may be of great support for rural tourism development, following direct or indirect investments for developing tourist attractions, facilities and products (Garrod et al., 2006). Tourists are seeking friendly relationships, true and genuine values during their holidays, which they seem to find in rural areas that offer the possibility for socializing or for finding a community identity (Bessiere, 1998).

A survey conducted by Sharply and Vaas (2006) indicates that it is the local traditions and culture that play a part in tourists' desire to stay in the countryside. The more urbanized society has become, the more socially significant rural areas become for leisure and recreational activities (Hall, 2005), tourists being keen to experience the rural lifestyle which has disappeared in much of the Western countries.

Tourism gets in contact with agricultural practices either directly, when agricultural activities such as harvesting a crop are a tangible feature, or indirectly, by consumption of meals and drinks; there may be also a passive contact, when these two activities share the same location, but are operated individually, as it is the case of outdoor activities (Phillip et al., 2010). In the majority of cases where tourists come in direct contact with authentic agricultural activities, there will be at least some element of stageing (Phillip et al., 2010).

The agricultural practices and landscapes, local architecture, folklore, gastronomy, traditions and feasts are valuable assets for luring and keeping tourists in the area for a longer period of time. Recent case studies point out that the quality of a rural destination depends to a great extend on having attractions and events that meet visitors' expectations and ensure that they are well occupied (EC, 1999). Moreover, tourists are willing to pay a higher price for a farm located in a region that is rich in tourist attractions (Fleischer & Tchetchik, 2005). That is why it is highly recommended to plan for the development of attraction clusters (Sharply & Vaas, 2006).

Marketing, as well as competition, cooperation and networking and globalization, are the main major challenges for rural tourism (Hall et al., 2005). Considering that the tourism market has become more sophisticated and discriminating in recent years (EC, 1999), and that all over the world there are massive public and private investments for developing new tourism areas, the promotion of travel places is an indisputably means for their success. Proper marketing includes the marketing mix, product planning and development, printing, branding, distribution channel, promotion and market research (Goeldner & Brent Ritchie, 2009). For tourism, there are four major promotion activities: advertising (paid), publicity (unpaid), public relations and incentives (gifts, discounts) (Gunn & Vaar, 2002).

Typical implementation gap for rural tourism are the mediocre knowledge of rural tourism and the lack of information about the requirements of the guests, suggesting poor market awareness (Nylander & Hall, 2006). Based on the local (material and cultural) resources available, rural tourism entrepreneurs should establish their target group--place of origin, age, income level, in order to address them properly (Popescu & Badita, 2011). The segmentation of rural tourism consumer might be of help to better understand their specific needs and interests (Zbuchea & Dinu, 2009, p.50).

Internet promotion and ICT means can support rural tourism initiatives by improving business practice and reaching the consumer (Clarke, 2005), internet having revolutionized destination marketing, offering small destinations with tiny budget the same market reach as the largest destinations in the world (Cooper & Hall, 2008).

Services offered by tourism providers, including accommodation, food service, transportation or travel agencies have the most significant economic impact, travel services supporting attractions as a major portion of the travel experience (Gunn & Vaar, 2002). Tourists ask for the whole tourist product of a destination, rural tourism needing to develop individual, not standard offers for certain target groups (Baum et al., 2009). Depending on the types of existing accommodation (large establishments possessing sport activities and a swimming pool, medium-sized or small establishments) several profiles of tourists can be attracted to a rural destination (Pina & Diaz Delfa, 2005). The location of accommodation facilities is not to be neglected, as not all rural areas are equally attractive to tourists and the provision of accommodation facilities cannot guarantee demand (Sharply & Vaas, 2006).

Although there are various programs and policies for supporting rural entrepreneurship, most of them are focused on improving the competitiveness of already existing enterprises, and not on raising entrepreneurial capacity of rural regions (North & Smallbone, 2006). Rural tourism is 'a relatively fragile business' requiring a range of skills that may not be easy to develop or attain in one person (Nylander & Hall, 2005).

Wilson et al. (2001) show the existence of ten factors/conditions that are most important for successful rural tourism development: complete tourism package, good community leadership, support and participation of local government, sufficient funds for tourism development, strategic planning, coordination and cooperation between business persons and local leadership, coordination and cooperation between rural tourism entrepreneurs, information and technical assistance for tourism development and promotion, good convention and visitors bureaus, and widespread community support for tourism.

In order for a planning strategy to be successful, it must focus on cooperation, participation and efficient organization (Baum et al., 2009), government, non-profit organizations and private commercial enterprises on one hand, and local residents, financial institutions and market demand on the other hand having an equally important role in the planning process (Gunn & Vaar, 2002). Strategic planning must be focused on the community level (Gunn & Vaar, 2002), having as main objectives: improving the image of Romania as a rural destination, providing people with more attractions and recreation activities by clustering instead of disseminating attractions and thus increasing visitors' length of stay and revenues and networking between several communities. It must be noticed that not all rural areas are equally attractive to tourists and it is the planners that must discover the special qualities that make places different and then plan for the development of these special features (Gunn & Vaar, 2002). Apart from people and organizations directly involved in tourism planning and development, highly effective planning assistance can be provided by professional consultants and interdisciplinary teams, including urban planners, architects, landscape architects, historians, archeologists, wildlife specialists, ethnographers, university researchers that offer unbiased information and plans (Gunn & Vaar, 2002).

Successful tourist destinations are those that manage to retain tourists for a longer period of time, not just for transit. Consequently, it is highly necessary to offer not just attractions that people can just stop and visit, but offer a complete tourism package (accommodation, restaurants and recreational facilities, attractions and events--things to see and to do, and shops where people can spend their money) that is properly promoted. Stakeholders must understand and promote what it was that brought the tourists to the village in the first place (Wilson et al., 2001).

Although there are many national, regional or local development policies focused on the diversification of rural activities into tourism, numerous researchers argue that rural tourism is not a guarantee for local development (Iorio & Corsale, 2010; Nylander & Hall, 2006; Roberts & Hall, 2001; Banski, 2003).

Overview of the Romanian rural space

Compared to the EU standards, Romania is characterised not only by a serious economic discrepancy, but also by a significant gap related to social reality (Serban & Juravle, 2012). Out of the 20.1 mil.inhabitants that were registered at the population census in 2011, 9.2 million live in rural areas, which account for almost 46% of Romania's population, placing the country on the last rank in the European Union with respect to the share of rural population. The area that is predominantly rural (according to the OECD definition) covers more than 142,000 square kilometres (EUROSTAT, 2013), similar to that of much larger countries, such as Poland and Spain.

The active rural population is about 4.4 million persons (aged 15 and over), i.e. 48% of the total population living in the countryside. Most of them are working in agriculture, particularly a subsistence or semi-subsistence agriculture, the non-agricultural activities accounting for only 20% of the active population (Sandu, 2005). The poor rural Romanian economy is emphasized by the fact that only a quarter of the communes in Romania carry out non-agricultural activities and just 5.7% of the rural economy is made of industrial activities and 9.3% by services, triggering important economic and social consequences of rural life (National Rural Strategic Framework, NRSF 2014). Rural tourism, in all its forms, except for few locations, practically does not exist, contributing with only 0.1% to the rural economy, compared to 4.4% in the European Union (NRSF 2014).

The current status of non-agricultural rural economy is the result of spontaneous development rather than government policies and agencies (Sandu, 2005). Thus, the GDP in predominantly rural areas was just 3,900 euro/inhabitant in 2009 (registering a slight decrease compared to 2007 and 2008) (EUROSTAT 2013), which is at least five times less than in the western countries of the European Union. Regarding the income of rural, most of the population is poor. Farmers have the worst financial situation. As Sandu (2005) puts it, 'farmers are the poorest, while the inactive population (retired people, housekeepers, pupils) are poor', these two categories accounting for three quarters of the adult and old rural population (Sandu, 2005,p.92). This is no surprise since the average area of a farm in Romania is 1.95 ha, and 92% of the individual agricultural exploitations (IAE) cover less than 5 ha (more than half of the total number of IAE are less than 1 ha) (General Agricultural Census, GAC 2010).

With few exceptions, the education system in the rural areas from all over the country has been decaying for the last four decades, Mihailescu (2005) arguing that the country faces long historical cycles that are out of political control, because education is not seen as an area of interest and intervention. Almost three quarters of the illiterate Romanians live in the countryside, where they account for 2% of the rural population, while just 15% of the total population with a bachelor diploma is found in the countryside (5% of the rural population having tertiary education). More than half of the population has accomplished just secondary education cycle (37% gymnasium and 17% high-school). Education, as a form of human capital, has been neglected; hence, the poorest rural regions lie in the southern and eastern part of the country, where people have the lowest educational background and where agriculture is the main economic activity (Sandu, 1999b).

Rural schools are greatly disadvantaged with respect to ICT means, the access to this type of technology as well as the capacity to use it being very important for the education and training of the future work force. Another weak point of the educational system stems from the high share of commuting teaching staff that can no longer form a local dynamic intellectuality that would contribute to the development of local communities (Mihailescu, 2005).

The demographic structure testifies for a continuously ageing process of the rural population, the elderly accounting for 19.4% of the rural population, compared to only 17.7% young population (less than 15 years of age). Still, this average may shadow the severe situation that some villages are facing, as it is the case in high mountainous areas or the southern counties (in some of the communes within the Danube floodplain, the population aged 65 and over is almost 35% (Licurici et al., 2013). Out-migrationis another serious challenge that rural areas are facing. More than 330,000 persons were abroad for a long time (12 months or more) at the time of 2011 population census, almost three quarters being 20 to 44 years old. Actually, more than half of the Romanians younger than 24 years that were abroad for more than one year originate from rural areas.

As Otiman (2012) concludes, the dominant realities of the Romanian rural areas are the result of severe economic and social phenomena, most notably desagrarization (no farming activities on large agricultural fields), physical and social desertification due to depopulation, ageing and low skills of the rural workforce, the predominantly agrarian economy and almost complete disappearance of social rural economy (craftsmen).

Thus, we are entitled to ask ourselves: what chance does the rural stand? Is the rural area in Romania doomed to be an ever more difficult periphery to deal with? Or are there good chances to overcome, at least partially, this economic and social gap?

In order for the rural communities to develop from the economic point of view, society must evolve as a whole. The underdevelopment of villages is the result of the poorly developed regional structure they are included in; regional development will subsequently trigger the development of villages as well (Mihalache & Croitoru, 2011).


Following the literature review on rural tourism and the characterization of the rural area in Romania, an assessment of the chances for the development of rural tourism in Romania was carried out. For this purpose, the model proposed by Gunn (1996), including six development factors (namely attractions, promotion, tourism infrastructure, services, hospitality and entrepreneurship) was adopted, since it provides a thorough picture of resources available for tourism development, helping us to see the strengths and weakness of the Romanian area. In order to determine all attractions with value for tourism available in the countryside, we studied the National Spatial plans, section 6 Tourist areas, as well as Law no. 190/2009. After this initial phase, in order to further address this issue, there were identified the most important factors needed for successful tourism development, in order to capitalize the local, traditional heritage, while still preserving the local natural resources.


'While there are many other European destinations offering beach and skiing tourism, the rural one is among Romania's attributes as a destination' (Light, 2006). Romania has managed to preserve strong traditions and a multi-millenary rural culture, a rich folklore and pervading regional identity being constant elements of the entire rural ambiance (Mazilu & Dumitrescu, 2013). As Sitwell (1938) remarked following his journey throughout the country, Romania is still one of the few countries that can take pride in a rural population of such an exceptionally quality, this population being its real asset. A plus of attractivity is ensured by the association of rural tourism with mountain tourism, since many of the traditions preserved in rural areas are in hilly and mountainous regions of Romania (Zbuchea & Radu, 2009, p. 46).

Out of 2861 communes (NUTS 5 level), i.e. the smallest territorial administrative unit (TAU), that exist in Romania, less than a third possess many natural and man-made resources and only 3.5% significant resources for rural tourism (Table 1). It is worth mentioning here that the natural resources (natural protected areas, therapeutic factors) prevail, the number of TAUs with high concentration of natural resources being more than double than that having man-made resources. Most of the communes are situated within the Carpathians and sub-Carpathians, as well as in the Transylvanian Plateau, the hilly and plain TAU having much fewer resources to be capitalized in tourism.

Mountainous area preserves the best examples of traditional agriculture in Romania, since within the Carpathian region, the agriculture was generally not socialized during the communist period, the inhabitants carrying on traditional activities that were based on family, or sometimes associative ties (as animal grazing in the mountains) (Cianga, 2002).

Among the attractions found in Romanian villages, we mention rural handicrafts, folklore and traditions, the culinary heritage and agricultural practices. From Bukovina up to the Danube valley, the richest area in village architecture, folklore, music and dances in the world can be found, peasant art in Romania being considered by some authors the most splendid and outstanding one in the entire Europe (Sitwell, 1938). Local handicrafts, whether wood carving, wicker twinning or pottery, can be found throughout the country, the art of pottery from Horezu being placed recently on the immaterial legacy of the World Heritage List, together with other two fundamental Romanian folklore characteristics--doina and calusul (Riding Horses). Weaving, despite being the most widespread handicraft, has well established and certified workshops in just 78 villages, most of them situated in Moldova: half (37) lying in Neamt county, followed by Galati (11 villages) and Botosani (5 villages). Other handicrafts are embroidery (40 villages (mostly in Neamt county), wood carving (35 villages) predominantly in Neamt, Buzau, Maramures, pottery (31 villages), cooperage (22 villages, mainly in Galati), iron masters and farrieries (13 villages), furriers (11 villages), wickers (10 villages), naive painting (9), folk masks (9), egg painting (4 villages from Suceava county).

Traditions are still preserved in many parts of the countryside, and local celebrations are quite often a cheerful and colourful experience, and, most important, a genuine experience and not something staged for tourists (Popescu et al., 2010). Still, in just 168 communes there are well organized and regular feasts (Gorj county ranks first with 16 local celebrations in the villages, followed by Maramures (13), Valcea (10), Bistrita-Nasaud (12), Alba, Covasna and Calarasi (11). Most of them are folkloric celebrations, having generally a county or regional character, but there are also feasts of the national minorities (Constanta, Satu Mare, Timis), pastoral and other agricultural fetes, as well as religious celebrations.

The folk architecture is quite ingenious, combining materials locally available to the rural population--wood, stone and clay, the highly variegated decorations on both outside and inside walls of traditional houses as well as the masterly-carved wooden panels adorning porches and gates being the main features of the Romanian traditional architecture (Mihailescu, 2001). The wooden churches from Maramures, the finest example of popular technical and architectural achievements, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, are considered the quintessence of the long evolution of the wood civilization characteristic for the Carpathians (Cianga, 1998). Apart from these well-known monuments, fine examples of folk architecture can be found throughout the entire countryside, the old houses being faithful to the local architectural style. However, the fact that ever more houses that are built in the villages, and sometimes even rural boarding houses, do not preserve the local architectural style cannot be overlooked.

The culinary heritage of rural areas linked to a peasant identity has very good chances to be a factor in tourist attraction, integration and social dynamization (Bessiere, 1998). Romanian gastronomy has emerged as a national cooking style as distinct from the Russian one, offering a contrast of half barbarian, half sybaritic delicacies (Sitwell, 1938). Each year ANTREC (the National Association for Rural and Ecologic Tourism) issues the calendar of rural gastronomic feasts. For 2014, there are listed 29 such feasts, targeted towards various products (cheese products, pies, fish, pork, fruits etc.).

At the National Office for Romanian traditional and ecologic products, there are registered almost 2500 attested Romanian traditional products, the most important being milk products (more than 1,000 products, which account for 41% of the total number), meat products (26%) and types of bread (20%). Despite these impressive figures, at European level, Romania has just one product (plum jam from Topoloveni, Arges) with protected designation of origin (PDO) out of more than 500 products registered in the European Union and no products for protected geographical indication (PGI) or traditional specialty guarantee (TSG), the country's performance on this market being very poor. Moreover, the traditional Romanian alcoholic drink--palinca originating from Transilvania, was registered by Hungary as a Hungarian traditional product (Gheorghe & Nistoreanu, 2012).


There are various means for the promotion of services or facilities, or the destination as a whole, starting from flyers, brochures, magazines, as the one edited by ANTREC--Holidays in the countryside, up to collaborations with travel agencies or participating to tourism fairs. Of course, some of them are rather expensive for the owner of an accommodation facility, but by building and extending networks following local cooperation and community involvement (Hall et al., 2005) things would be much easier. Well aware of the economic importance of tourism, at least at declarative level, the state supports tourism activities through policies and financial and economic mechanisms. Thus, at least 50% of the amount of the hotel taxes must be used for promotion, local administrations, following consultative meetings with the regional associations for tourism promotion, distributing the money (Tourism Law) for various activities.

Non-governmental organizations, such as ANTREC and AFSR (Association of the Most Beautiful Romanian Villages) are organizing or supporting some rural events that take part throughout the entire year in various villages around the country. In 2013, 34 rural events were listed which were supported by these two organizations, most of them focusing on the culinary heritage or traditions.

It is worth mentioning here a program that was recently initiated--The holidays of the Romanian village--, aimingto kee unaltered the authenticity of the rural holidays by promoting gastronomic, cultural, religious or mixed events from all the ethnographic regions. With the help of the French embassy in Romania, and some know-how transfer from the Association of the most beautiful villages in Wallonia and Operation Village Roumaine, AFSR developed the guide of the most beautiful Romanian villages. For now, this guide includes nine villages, and what is surprising is that none of them is located in Maramures, Apuseni or the Bran corridor, the areas well-known for the development of rural tourism. We think this was a salutary act, because apart from these areas (that were largely left aside the collectivization process during communist times, generating a mentality different from the one of peopled dragged into the agriculture of the great state and cooperative units, that helped them develop family run

business after 1990), there are also numerous other areas with great potential (the Danube Delta, Mehedinti Plateau, northern Oltenia, Padureni Land, to name just a few) that are hardly ever mentioned.

Taking this into consideration, we investigate what is promoted and how it is promoted on the Internet. At national level (the approach of the Ministry of tourism), the focus is on a rather integrated tourism product, with various aspects, rural tourism included. For the external visibility, there is one dedicated web site, which, depending on the tourists' country of origin, directs the visitor to a different page. Still, all of them offer four types of holidays--Authentic Romania, Natural Romania, Cultural Romania and Active Romania. Special interest tab includes, among other, arts and crafts (painted eggs, ceramics, wood carving, textiles, rugs, masks and glass) and traditions and folklore. By far, Maramures is on top of the listings for almost all the categories.

With a view to attract the local market as well, the Ministry of Regional Development and the National Television carried on a TV campaign for tourism promotion during 2011-2012, focusing on eighteen places considered worth visiting, half of them being villages (mostly from Moldova). Although showing very tempting images and sightseeing, the spots do not offer any information about the location of the villages, caves or lakes (county it is situated in, distance from major town, any positioning reference), which would be highly necessary, because tourists may remember more easily if they can associate it with some town or county.


In terms of the accommodation capacity in Romania for the period 2000-2013 (data provided by NIS), the number of beds in the rural boarding houses increases from 3544 (2000) to 28775 (2013). Regarding the development regions, an upward trend can be observed for all the eight regions, i.e. the Central region with the highest values ranging between 1619 (2000) and 10925 (2013) number of beds, a very significant increase, and the North-East Region with values ranging between 526 (2000) and 5258 (2013) number of beds, an increase due to a tourist supply based on a natural and man-made tourism potential, with ethnographic traditions and events. The lowest values were recorded in the South-West Oltenia region ranging between 38 (2000) and 1661 (2013) number of beds and in the South-East region, ranging from 697 (2000) to 1900 (2013) number of beds, which have a lower competitiveness of rural tourism sector compared to other regions.

The counties with a high accommodation capacity (no. of beds) of rural boarding houses in 2013 are Brasov--5024 no. of beds, Harghita--2523, Suceava--2462, Neamt--2132, and Arges--1642. The counties with the lowest number of beds in rural boarding houses (below 100 number of beds) are Satu Mare, Botosani, Braila, Calarasi, Ialomita, Virginia, and Ilfov. The distribution of rural boarding houses reveals a high expansion in the mountain resorts with over 500 units, 650 units being the maximum value recorded in 2013, followed by the spa resorts, with 50 units in 2013.

The number of tourists who were recorded in the rural boarding houses shows an increase from the year 2000-28152 tourists to the year 2012-447113 tourists, the percentage of foreign tourists is extremely low within the total number of tourists, of only 6.7% in 2012. The foreign tourists' overnight stays are recordedsince2006-2007.The trend of the overnight stays is similar to that of arrivals, thus the regions which recorded the highest number of overnight stays are the Central region with 287,932 (2012), the North-East region with 191,033 (2012) and the North-West region with 129,293 (2012). The regions with the lowest no. of overnight stays are Ilfov 2648 (2012), the South-East Region 41236 (2012), and the South-West region 53,214 (2012).

Stakeholders should keep in mind that although tourists coming to a rural area are exposed to the rural ambiance during their recreational activities, comfortable accommodation and a plethora of tourist activities are the attributes they value (Fleischer & Tchetchik, 2005). That is why it is highly important to diversify the recreational facilities and means, by capitalizing some local resources such as chariots, carriages, sleighs or steam trains for forest railroads (Simon et al., 2012).


Hospitality and warmth of welcome is of utmost importance, the visitor's first impression of the destination, when reality starts to be compared to expectation, being critical to his response (EC 1999). Robert Cronk (2001), Director of Karst Water Institute USA, describes part of his experiences while he and his team travelled for researching Romanian caves how he got invited to a wedding party in the countryside just because they met the wedding procession, or how they ate with a sheppard and his wife. The art of receiving guests from abroad is considered to be one of the characteristics that distinguished the Romanians from others. In March 2014, on the tourism column from the BBC web-site, a funny clip was uploaded, entitled A foreign in Transylvania, presenting the adventure of a woman in Romania, where she visited her friend's mother. By mistake, she rang the bell to another apartment where she came across an old lady who, after hearing who she was, invited her in and served her something to eat.

Hospitality is the defining trait both for the city dweller and for the rural people, for the highly educated as well as for the genuine peasant, that are keen for welcoming guests. By tradition, our people used to welcome their guests with bread and salt, as symbol of wealth and prosperity, followed by traditional local meals. According to the Romanian Dictionary, the term hospitable designates a person that is glad to receive guests. Hospitality, i.e. providing services with generosity, kindness and amiability is the fundamental principle of the tourism industry.


Being entrepreneur in an emerging market economy is a 'social innovation' that implies playing a new role, which is quite unlike anything that the communism proposed, or better said, imposed, as socializing mean (Sandu, 1999a). During the 1990's, Romania registered one of the lowest rates of entrepreneurship activities, of only 4%. In predominantly rural areas, businesses emerge more difficult than in urban areas and die faster (Stefan, 2010). Rural entrepreneurs tend to be the persons with the highest educational background in families with poor education (Sandu, 1999a).

In Romania, entrepreneurial development is very poor in rural regions as a result of the insufficient material resources, poor education, low level of utilities and out-migration (SAPARD report 2011). Still, there are various potential sources for entrepreneurship: young people (in the communities where there is a tradition on small business ownership), in-migrants and the education of training of the locals (North & Smallbone, 2006).

Following a survey targeted at present and potential rural entrepreneurs, Stefan (2010) found out that the lack of information and the lack of financial capital are the main drawbacks for starting a business (26.6% and, 20.6%, respectively, of the surveyed people). Rural tourism is ranked the highest among their preferences for setting up a new business, with a share of almost 18% of the answers, compared to 16% for agriculture and much lower proportions for the other economic activities. Therefore, potential for development of rural tourism business exist, at least at a declarative level.

The official statistics however, tell a different story. During the last two decades, there were several European and national programs aimed at supporting the development and economic diversification of the rural economy. Their result, at least with respect for tourism activities in rural areas, is quite modest. In 2010, only 54 out of more than 3.8 million individual agricultural exploitations had applied for a program targeted at the promotion of tourism activities as a mean for rural development. The vast majority (74%) of these applications originated from Brasov county, the other eleven counties having just one such exploitation (except for Vrancea and Suceava, with 3 and 2, respectively), while the remaining twenty-nine counties (NUTS 3 level) having no such application.

Moreover, according to the evaluation report for SAPARD funds, although there were 1058 implemented projects for Measure 3.4 Development and diversification of economic activities generating multiple activities and alternative income, only 15% of the programmed projects were brought to an end, the efficacy of this measure on the whole being quite low. For rural tourism, during the 2000-2006 period, the funds allotted totalled 21 million Euro, another 16.8 million Euro being destined for other types of tourist activities in the rural area. There were contracted 691 projects, and 95% were successfully completed. Since the other sub measures had a very weak performance, with the value of the contracted projects way below the proposed budget, the final amount of money granted for the projects related to rural tourism was more than double compared to the initial ceiling.

The programmes aimed at starting or developing businesses in rural areas must consider not only the distinctive characteristics of the business type, but also other three essential aspects: the business environment, specifics of rural population and the already existing economic structure (Association of Analysts in Public Policies).

Factors needed for successful tourism development

Considering that rural tourism in Romania is rather a new business, particular attention must be paid to strategic planning, proper marketing, a complete tourism package and technical assistance for tourism development and promotion in order to capitalize the local, traditional heritage, while still preserving the local natural resources.


So far, the strategies and policies aimed at the development of rural tourism in Romania have focused particularly on improving the quality of existing tourism facilities or expanding its capacity (measure 313- encouraging tourism activities), although of utmost importance are research, planning, training and information system development for studying tourism issues and understand available resources and target markets. During the 2007-2013 period, there were allotted 468 mil Euro for investments in accommodation facilities (65% of the total amount), recreational activities (17%), information centres, signalling of thematic tracks (15%), while the development and marketing of rural tourism services got only 3%, despite the fact that this is particularly one of the weakest points of Romanian rural entrepreneurs (National Strategy for Romania's sustainable development. 2013-2020-2030 horizon).

Quite often, both in well established, as well as in emerging destinations of rural tourism in Romania, there was hardly any urban planning, many accommodation facilities beginning to pile up in the villages, sometimes the architectural style of the buildings being completely obsolete and totally improper considering the traditional architecture of the area (Popescu & Badita, 2011; Ilies et al., 2008; Petrea & Petrea, 2006). Instead of using local materials, such as wood and stone or clay, two to three story high boarding houses made of steel and glass emerged in the Romanian villages, altering the authenticity and spirit of the rural areas.

Technical assistance for tourism development and promotion

Visiting rural spaces continues to be framed by cultural worlds in which individuals live (Crouch, 2006). These cultural worlds are rather unknown to the rural entrepreneurs from Romania and cannot be properly addressed without technical assistance. Heritage interpretation courses organized by training organizations would enable local citizens to become authentic interpreters of their area's cultural, historical and natural heritage (Goeldner & Brent, 2009). Information about promotional materials--how to design a flyer or a brochure, developing a web-site and gather feed-back from clients is another acute aspect that must be dealt with.

The Romanian law stipulates that the local public administrations are obliged to organize tourist information and promotion centres in every resort and balneary spa and in each county-seat towns. We consider highly necessary such centres in rural areas, as well to provide guidance for visitors and help local communities to better capitalize their natural and cultural patrimony and assist agricultural economies diversify into tourism.

Despite the fact that there has been the legislative framework for the development of intercommunity development associations' (Law no. 215/2001) for quite some time now, there are no such associations activating in the field of rural tourism. These associations, supported by regional and national authorities, could help improve cooperation activities within and outside destinations and provide attraction clustering.


Rural Romania is quite dissimilar to much of the rural areas in the European Union, both in terms of standard of living and economic activities, on the one hand, as well as education level and entrepreneurial abilities and skills on the other hand. This paper has attempted to analyse the potential of tourism for the development of rural communities in Romania, since tourism is a powerful agent of change. We used the model proposed by Gunn, identifying and analysing six development factors, in order to reveal the strengths and weakness of the study area.

Almost a third of the communes in Romania, most of them situated in the Carpathians and Transylvania, posses valuable natural and man-made resources

that might be capitalized in tourism activities. Among them, the unspoiled nature is worth mentioning, local handicrafts and traditions that are still alive in many parts of the countryside, together with a plethora of activities related to agricultural practices and religious events. Forest, unpaved roads are part of the villages charm that would appeal to foreign tourists coming from a deeply technologized world. We therefore consider that there is potential for rural tourism development in the mountainous villages. However, the sole existence of attractions and events is not enough to attract visitors.

Destinations with best opportunities to capitalize their tourism resources are those that possess not only attractions, but also a good strategy to deliver a quality rural tourism experience. Particular attention must be paid to proper marketing in order to reach the target market, and not least, countryside recreation facilities and activities, since most providers of rural tourism are focusing solely on providing accommodation facilities and local gastronomy products. Another key point is raising local awareness and support in the rural destinations for the need and advantages of networking in order to increase lengths of stay and thus revenues for the local communities.

What about the domestic potential of rural tourism in Romania? Considering the very high proportion of the population living in the rural areas, the rural character of many of the small towns and the family ties that much of the urban dwellers still have with their relatives in the countryside and the lack of a clear promotion strategy, domestic tourists' appetite for rural destinations is quite low. In order for rural tourism to help boost local economies, authenticity, traditions and local heritage is not enough; people must also upgrade their skills and knowledge needed in tourism business, have proper development and marketing plan and address the right market segment.


This work was partially supported by the grant number 8C/January 2014, awarded in the internal grant competition of the University of Craiova. A draft version of this paper was presented at the international conference Academic Geography of Timisoara at the 55th Anniversary.


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Received January 29, 2014

Liliana POPESCU *, Amalia BADITA *, Mirela MAZILU *

* University of Craiova, Geography Department, 13, Al. I. Cuza St., 200585, 1100 Craiova, Romania; corresponding author:

* Intercommunity development associations are cooperation structures having a juridical personality, of public utility, made up only of communes (NUTS 5 level), in order to carry on common development projects of local or regional interest or for providing common services in common.
Table 1: Top 10 counties with significant resources
for rural tourism

County                  No. of TAU with high
                     concentration of resources

                     Natural   Natural    Man-
                               and man-   made

Mures                   9         15       32
Arges                  41         4        5
Maramures              19         19       4
Alba                   17         13       6
Neamt                  11         11       13
Suceava                17         12       5
Harghita               15         17       1
Brasov                 10         12       7
Gorj                   13         10       6
Caras-Severin          22         4        --
Total Romania          440       219      189
% of the total TAU    15.4       7.6      6.6

County               No. of TAU with very high
                     concentration of resources

                     Natural    Natural   Man-
                     and man-             made

Mures                   1         --       1
Arges                   1         --       --
Maramures               --         1       9
Alba                    --         3       8
Neamt                   3         --       4
Suceava                 1         --       6
Harghita                --        --       1
Brasov                  --         2       2
Gorj                    --         1       2
Caras-Severin           4          1       --
Total Romania           24        17       60
% of the total TAU     0.6        0.6     2.1

Data source: processing after Law no. 190/2009
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Author:Popescu, Liliana; Badita, Amalia; Mazilu, Mirela
Publication:Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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