Rural tourism in the Romanian Carpathians.
In the context of an increasingly harsh contemporary globalization process, the multiple problems specific to rural spaces are intensifying, rendering in this way lasting alternatives to traditional economic activities specific to these. One such underlying issue is illustrated by the gradual, yet irreversible, terrain reductions on which rural communities in all European countries would rely for their traditional ways of living, thus often imposing the creation of new forms of activities as economical alternatives. Given this context, in Romania can still be found a majority of agricultural land, which means 62% of its overall surface, and which contains more than 50% of the country's population. If in other European Union States governmental subsidies vary between 270 and 300 Euros per hectare (in 2009), in Romania the farmers benefit only of a modest sum of 82 Euros per hectare (in 2009), even though they rank eight on the EU allocation hierarchy for this particular sector (2.1 billion Euros/2009). Similarly, reducing the forest surface (by excessive and uncontrolled deforestation) and also enlarging the built space constituted the principal cause for the diversified reduction of the agricultural surface in the last twenty years, taking also into account the varied natural conditions in which the Romanian rural space is situated.
In this sense, rural tourism, practiced for more than a century without being known by this term, has appeared in the last decades as such an alternative, and has been facilitated by the individual investments of those who either had left the rural space to seek work abroad, or of those who had returned from urban centres where the distortions recorded in the industry and work spheres had great consequences on the rise of unemployment. The varied forms of tourism practiced today in the rural landscape constitute the very effect for the attractiveness specific to the three relatively balanced forms of relief (the Carpathians; hills and plateaus; plains) in which the rural landscape is divided: a diverse climate, mineral and thermal springs, rivers and lakes, and a varied biodiversity. To all these can also be added the attractiveness of the rural settlements themselves, from the smallest villages found in the highest mountains, together with their pastoral traditions, to more numerous ones on hills and plateaus, and finally to those that populate the plains, also known as the "country's agricultural heart". All these can be transformed into wonderful tourist attractions, which would, in turn, offer unique and unforgettable experiences to tourists willing to try the Romanian rural landscape out. In addition, the diversity and richness of the anthropogenic tourism potential (traditional architecture, culture, pilgrimages, and also local gastronomy) represent a big plus for the rural tourism in the Carpathians.
From the great diversity of its tourist potential, which, in time, imposed particular forms of rural tourism, our study has concentrated on those specific to the Romanian Carpathian space. If, overall, the Carpathians, by virtue of their size, form an essential part of Europe's landscape, the Romanian Carpathian land distinguishes itself through a high density in population which, in time, functioned to render a vast array of cultural possibilities. All these managed to maintain unaltered both historical and cultural traditions gained through lengthy, yet harmonious, cohabitation with people of various other nationalities, or multicultural elements given by the mix of Hungarian, Roma, German, Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish, Tartar, and Macedo-Romanian people. As these are reflected through Romanian art and folklore, and coupled with the country's renowned hospitality. Romania is priding itself to hold an important part of the worldwide cultural heritage, exemplified by the painted monasteries in Bucovina, the Dacian fortresses in the Orastie Mountains, the fortified churches in Transylvania, the fortified town of Sighisoara, etc.
It is in these conditions that the development of rural tourism within the Romanian Carpathian landscape can play an important role in the diversification of Romania's tourism. In view of the fact that rural tourism is not only an aim in itself, but needs to be associated with the lasting economic developments of this landscape, which would, together with agriculture, contribute towards the well being of the local population. Throughout the following pages our aim is to present mostly those activities specific to mountain settlements that play a major role for the sustainable development of the rural tourism. Far from having reached today the development stages it should have, Romania's rural tourism, through all its practiced forms (or the ones to be practiced in the future), should focus on the viable use of its resources that are capable of assuring in this way the sustainable development of local communities.
The current paper focuses primarily on a thorough research related to the tourist phenomenon present in the rural space, conferring special attention to that existent in the Romanian Carpathian landscape. For its purpose, our reference material (Romanian, as well as international) consists of books, journals and newspapers, but also of laws, administrative documents, and governmental reports. Similarly, the analysis of various relevant portals and web pages also provided a substantial amount of data in relation to accommodation and leisure facilities present in the mountain rural space. Importantly, web-site analysis, primarily that of forums, proved useful in observing the feedback provided by the many tourists that had visited our studied areas, aiding this way the conception of necessary measures required to increase the quality of tourist services in the future.
The incompleteness of statistical information and data, however, made impossible a thorough quantitative research, thus rendering some case studies in its second part (about ecotourism, health tourism, and sport tourism in the Carpathians). As for research tools, the authors have used especially direct field observations which have been realised during 2007 and 2010. Thus, interviews have been used with the aim of providing a clear and objective view of the real state of rural tourism in the Romanian mountains. Likewise, direct discussions and telephone interviews have been used in order to gather relevant data from stakeholders in this field like: local councillors, NGO spoke persons, boarding house owners and event-planners, as well as interviewing the local people from the study areas. Lastly, with the aim of synthesize the findings gathered through an intense field research, we have opted for cartographical representations of the main spas and significant ski resorts existent in the Carpathian rural space.
The importance of rural tourism
Over time, the concept of "rural tourism" has been defined in many ways, allowing thus numerous interpretations and controversies. Despite the fact that most theoreticians in the sphere of tourism associate rural tourism with "holidays in the countryside", there are a series of inconsistencies when trying to limit this type of tourism. Hence, Opperman (1996) approaches and develops Dernoi's theory (1991) according to which not all tourist activities that take place in non-urban areas should necessarily be associated with rural tourism. The difference between rural tourism and other types of activities specific to tourism in rural areas is represented by the very existence of permanent human communities in those regions (Chambers, 2004). What is more, in the wider literature on tourism, studies with particular focus on rural tourism are mostly made in Europe, North America and Australia (Bramwell & Lane, 1994; Opperman, 1996; Butler et al., 1998; MacDonald & Jolliffe, 2003; Butler, 2011; Hall, 2011; Leslie, 2011).
According to international statistics, most tourists are those international visitors (UNWTO, 2008) who are attracted primarily by busy urban areas and to a lesser extent by rural ones. The great majority of tourists that chose to visit the rural areas in Europe are internal tourists or recreationists that have easier access to national / local information related to rural spaces than foreigners. It can, thus, be noticed a lower level of interest in the promotion of non-urban areas internationally, whilst well-established tourist destinations still prevail in the politics of tourism promotion (Butler et al., 1998).
Additionally, taking into account that the holiday period of most tourists is limited to one or two weeks, it can be argued that the number of those wishing to visit the rural spaces is also reduced. It can be argued that in urban areas tourists are able to visit more attractions than they would in rural spaces, disposing of various forms of transport, whilst accessibility is limited for rural areas necessitating, in most cases, the use of a car which implies higher financial expenses. Therefore mobility, in terms of access and up-to-date travel possibilities, is considered a crucial component in the future development of tourism. What is more, the complex relationship between rural communities and urban centres bears an important role in its development, with a number of studies arguing that the worrying rise of low carbon economy, as well as the limited mobility potential due to short tourist visits in rural spaces, could constitute the key to the success of future developments (Hall, 2004).
A number of studies illustrate the way in which tourism in rural areas around Europe cannot be generalized as being as wide and beneficial all over the continent. In many rural communities tourism is seen as an impediment and so will its success or failure depend on the types of activities that are practiced in conformity with the rural area in which these are practiced (Briedenhann, 2007). Additionally, since, at times, contemporary forms of terrain use seems to be incompatible with the sustainable development of tourism (Sharpley, 2001), rural tourism should be conceived as a superior form in resource use in order to ensure its lengthy development. In the past fifty years, both tourism and European rural spaces have suffered major changes, which now require new directions in the choice of corresponding and viable tourist activities (Hall, 2003).
The changes that occurred on the political and economical map of Europe, in particular in the rural space, brought about changes in rural tourism as well. The second house became common in the rural areas and attracted both positive and negative effects over rural communities, especially in the use of resources. These changes brought about new types of activities and influences over rural communities which, in turn, changed the local way of life and contributed to future urbanization (Butler, 2010). In the same time, is important to note that growing interest for the countryside increased the financial incomes of the local communities (in this way many infrastructure facilities were improved or set up). As the existing tourism in rural settlements integrates lesser and lesser in sustainable development, there is a need for thoughtful consideration and reorientation in the prevention of future inconveniences.
In order to be able to discuss about the sustainable development of tourism in rural areas we must consider those forms of tourism that are compatible with both relevant rural activities and the natural environment in its varied forms (Sharpley, 2004). The acknowledged forms of durable tourism can be considered those forms that, developed to a certain level, would not impact negatively on the environment in which these are practiced (whether economical, psychological, or social), and more importantly in which these would not provoke irreversible changes (Butler, 1993).
Rural tourism in Romania--main directions
Romania is today one of the few European countries in which the rural landscape occupies considerable space, spreading over a diverse range of forms of relief, out of which an important part are occupied by the mountains themselves. What is more, the rural landscape in Romania still manages to maintain natural and anthropogenic elements, well preserved over time in their original form. This is one important reason for which a number of authors consider the Romanian rural landscape as being one of the "survivals" of secular Europe (Iorio & Corsale, 2010).
Tourism in the Romanian rural space, some authors argue, "is a new, yet an also old phenomenon at the same time" (Candea et al, 2007). Glavan (2005), cited by Candea et al. (2007), states that "rural tourism in Romania has always been practiced, but it happens spontaneously, by chance, and in an unorganized manner". The author mainly refers to the entire tourist phenomenon that occurs in the Romanian rural landscape when he mentions the 1930's, the period considered to be the start of rural tourism on Romanian land. In the second half of the 30s', rural tourism is cited for the first time by Valeriu Puscariu in the guide "La Roumanie".
Despite the fact that, even from the first part of the twentieth century, growing interest had been noticed in rural settlements towards tourism related activities, it is only in the '80s that we can actually talk about the first Romanian initiatives related to rural and agri-tourism.
During this time can be also noticed the emergence of the first studies in relation with rural tourism in Romania, and, although these were in researches undergone by economists and geographers, these were mainly aimed at the inception and development of this new form of tourism, already well known and practiced in Western-European countries (Bran et al., 1997; Mitrache et al., 1997; Nistoreanu, 1999; Petrea & Petrea, 2000, 2006; Petrea, 2004; Turnock, 2006).
In the last decade, the study of this type of tourism at Romania's level is characterized primarily by the fact that many scientists pertaining to the field of tourism had been increasingly interested in it. In this sense, after the year 2000, numerous studies that focused on Romanian rural tourism (which consist in tourist activities practiced in the rural areas) and agri-tourism (tourist activities practiced in farms) have emerged, which, in most cases, endeavoured to emphasize the necessity of rethinking local tourism (Plohotniuc, 2003; Stanciulescu, 2003; Garcia, 2004; Niculae & Marian, 2006; Nistoreanu et al., 2006; Candea et al., 2007). Furthermore, the new direction in the study of tourism would generally have to follow the direction of specialists at international level, aiming thus at the promotion of viable alternatives for mass-tourism, also known by the name of "sea-sand-sun", extensively exploited in the last decades. The practice of organised rural tourism, by means of adequately valorising existing tourist resources (primarily those in mountain areas), takes shape only after 1989. The first rural settlements with tourist connotations appear along the Carpathian Mountains and Sub-Carpathian plateaus, especially in the following areas: Bran-Moeciu, Barsa-land, Dorna-Depression, Maramures, and Apuseni mountains.
The growing interest for this new form of exploitation of the rural landscape, in tourism sense, aided the development of the first organisations (like NGO's, associations, agencies) that played a major role in the development and promotion of rural tourism as a product (Mountain Association Per Pedes (70s'); The Romanian Federation for Mountain Development--1991; CEFIDEC--1994; The National Association of Rural, Ecological and Cultural Tourism in Romania--1994).
The growing interest for this new type of tourism has, of course, attracted the attention of local, regional and national public administration. A series of legislative acts have been conceived, as a result, in order to try to regulate tourist activities of this sort. Likewise, research institutes, in the sphere of tourism, have combined their efforts in order to carry out researches relating to the tourist potential of the Romanian rural settlements. For instance, The National Institute for Research and Development in Tourism (INCDT), cited by Candea et al, 2007, had carried out a series of investigations on this respect and, eventually, ended up compiling the first ever list of rural settlements with resources for rural tourism in Romania.
Altogether, 103 settlements in the Carpathians rural area were identified with tourist resources, most of them being located in Eastern Carpathians (Suceava, Maramures, Covasna, Bistrita Nasaud and Brasov Counties). Along our own field, but also online, research carried out in the Carpathian Mountains, we have identified a further series of rural settlements in possession of tourist resources that can be favourably exploited (Table 1).
Romanian Carpathians in the European context
The Romanian rural space represents, nowadays, a growing tourist region. The Carpathians, with their most diversified landscapes in the entire country, constituted a tourist attraction to numerous secular societies throughout history. The quality of Carpathian country adds up to those of Danubian and Pontic ones, as together they function to delineate the fundamental geographical characteristics of the country's own territory, forming thus the indissoluble connection between the natural environment and its geo-historical evolution. Additionally, the fascinating quality of the Carpathian landscape in Romania is offered both by the partially unaltered mountain areas, and their extraordinary biodiversity (Dinu & Cioaca, 1998; Cioaca & Dinu, 2010).
The Carpathians, as the most extended mountain chain in Europe, are situated in the Central-Eastern part of the continent, starting from the Vienna Basin (Bratislava, Slovakia) up to Timoc Valley (Nis, Serbia). Its orographic axis is 1600 km long, and takes up a surface of 170,000 [km.sup.2]. The Carpathians in Romania, having the largest part of its overall length, form a long curve of 910 km between the country's border in the North with Ukraine, and the Danube in the South, occupying a total surface of 66,303 [km.sup.2], which means 40% of its overall length. In Romania, the Carpathians occupy nearly 28% of the country' overall territory, whilst, within these, the valleys and depressions that have favoured the population of its own space, take up one third (The Geography of Romania, vol. III, 1987).
Furthermore, permanent settlements are mostly situated within the numerous internal depressions (336), particularly along the major valleys found in the concentration basins of tributary streams, or at the periphery of levelled surfaces along the Carpathians. Carpathian civilizations have been born in these depressions and valleys, given the astonishing evidence for their occupation, after which these climbed and populated the peaks of the mountains, according to their strategic dispositions, but also to the precipitous circumstances of the surrounding environment (Giurcaneanu, 1970).
The Romanian village, situated at the unifying point between the Carpathian mountains and the lower plateaus in the vicinity, has always attracted a numerous population, making them the most concentrated of settlements--illustrated by 8 to 12 villages/100 [km.sup.2] as opposed to the national average of 4,14 villages/ 100[km.sup.2] (Population Census in Romania, 2002) (see Fig. 1). Consequently, it can be argued that the Carpathian Mountains in Romania have always constituted an easily accessible space, a fact which justifies the large number of mountain settlements illustrated by the following numbers: 2479 rural settlements and 73 urban ones (Population and Census in Romania, 2002) (see Fig. 2).
General characteristics of Romanian mountain tourism
Mountain tourism embodies more and more varied forms, some of which reinvent past traditions, whilst others offer more recent and unique innovations; yet, all are aiming at the superior and efficient valorisation of its existing resources. It can be added that tourist activity, along the level of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, has a history of over a century. Also, in time there have been numerous attempts to enrich the tourist dowry of the Carpathian Mountains, firstly by means of relevant tourist arrangements and specific forms of equipments, but also through a number of public and private programmes that aimed at attracting tourists towards the mountain areas (Dinu & Andrei, 2005).
In Romania, the present state of mountain tourism is characterised by a considerable discrepancy between the value and the attractiveness of existing tourist resources, and their degree of valorisation, fact both by quantitative, but mainly qualitative minuses (Tigu, 2001). In the mountain areas, today, there are around 1038 active accommodation units, a sum that represents approximately 32% of the total number of existing types of accommodation in Romania (see Fig. 3).
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The accommodations units specific to the Romanian rural space are mainly illustrated by agri-tourist boarding houses. The evolution of the number of this form of accommodation, at a national level, between 2005 and 2010, has followed an increasing trend until 2009 (illustrated by the rise from 956 units in 2005 up to 1412 units in 2009), which was subsequently followed by an insignificant decrease of 4%, in 2010. Agri-tourist boarding houses, in the Romanian mountain area during 2010, represent around 32% of its total number. As for the evolution of the number of this type of accommodation, a slow increase has been recorded from 288 units in 2005 in the last five years, up to 432 units in 2010 (see Fig 4).
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The doubling of the accommodation capacity in function for the agri-tourist boarding houses at Romania's level (illustrated by an increase of 51.6%) demonstrates a rise in the tourist demand for this type of accommodation and, consequently, for the rural space as well. The analysis of the same indicatory for the Romanian mountain area also exemplifies an ascending trend in the last period, but with a slightly reduced rate, that's from 1.05 mil. places-days to 1.79 mil. places-days (see Fig. 5).
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The tourist circulation in the mountain areas, in Romania, has resulted from the analysis of two main indicators: tourist arrivals, and overnight stays, which function to reveal a sinuous trajectory similar to other main tourist destinations. Thus, the tourist arrivals in accommodation units in the mountain area presents an ascending evolution between 2005 and 2008, with an increase of approximately 12 %, but which is subsequently followed by an abrupt decrease of around 10% over a single year, in 2009 (see Fig. 6).
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In addition, the descending rate related to tourist arrivals and overnight stays in accommodation units in the mountain areas, after 2008, can be mainly explained by the regressive economies through which most countries have been passing in the last years, given the recent recession which includes also Romania (see Fig. 7).
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Tourist activities practiced in the Romanian Carpathians rural area Rural ecotourism
The actual state of the environment in the Romanian mountain area, as almost anywhere in the world, is visibly in decline, and is accentuated not only by the exploitation of its natural resources (predominantly that of forests), but also by the rise in the number of tourists in search of alpine lawns and rocks, fresh air, secular forests, and of testimonies of mountain civilizations (Dinu & Cioaca, 1998; Cioaca & Dinu, 2010).
Ecotourism in the rural space is known in the literature as a peculiar concept due to the complex nature given by the overlapping between the components of specific activities present in rural areas, and the natural environment. In this sense, the authors of a recent study, Cater & Cater (2010), are forwarding the notion of uspread effects and backwash effects" that has resulted from the practice of rural ecotourism, arguing that ecotourism should be practiced in relation to all other activities specific to the rural space, both as a global event and a particularity in the global climate change. In addition, local rural communities should also be involved through a sustainable management programme, developed and adapted in the context of any issues that demand solving, a fact which implies the necessity of interdisciplinary in depth study (Dinu, 2006).
At the European scale, one of the fundamental problems is the gradual, yet irreversible, terrain reductions on which rural communities would rely for their ways of existence. In most European countries, this fact had imposed new forms of activities and economical alternatives. In Romania, however, these problems implied at the same time the shift of terrain areas towards construction industries, which, in the last twenty years, constituted the principal cause of the agricultural surface reduction, also taking into account the varied natural environment in which the Romanian rural areas are situated. This is why, here, rural ecotourism is primarily practiced in the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube Delta, the two rural landscapes least affected of human activity. Between rural tourism and ecotourism there are strong links that have resulted from the necessity of defining them as alternative forms of tourism that take place in the least populated and degraded of natural environments. The starting point of rural ecotourism, as an unbranded form of tourism, can be considered to have happened during the second part of the twentieth century, when many exchanged the urban areas for the peaceful rural settlements in the mountains, the point which, in fact, represented the genesis of Carpathian rural tourism. In this sense, we offer a quotation written by Bucura Dumbrava (1920), a promoter of tourism and tourist literature in our country: "... in response to a tourist's question who was enquiring about the gloominess and solitude of the mountains, a shepherd coming out of the low and darkened gate of his shelter replied: "I am not alone! I live together with the sheep and the mountains. There is no shepherd that has done this and not enjoyed it to its fullest-and here, in the mountains, most have taken care of sheep. And he carried on replying: "It is you to have come up to us to find fresh air, and enjoy the sun's light!"
The ecological approach to rural tourism is today an essential condition, not only for ensuring its sustainable development, but also for the promotion of the politics of environmental protection, that constitutes a fundamental resource to tourism. It is widely considered that, in order to attract tourists, any viable development should comprise both the preservation of natural resources (including that of protected areas), and the possibility of their limited and controlled consumption (Dinu, 2005).
Romania, which possesses 55% of the entire length of the Carpathian chain, together with the other six Carpathian countries is taking part in the international programme "The Carpathian Ecoregion Initiative" which aims at the integrative preservation of its natural and cultural heritage, and to the sustainable development of this region. Consequently, today, there are over 1,000 protected natural areas from its overall surface of 1,234,608 hectares (Ministry of Regional Development and Tourism, 2010), which means only 7.78% of our national territory. Out of this overall surface, 8% (which means 102,434 ha) is constituted by 827 scientific and natural reservations, as well as natural monuments, whilst the rest of 92% (of 1,132, 174.80 ha) is comprised by the eighteen existing nature and national parks, by the biosphere reservations in Retezat Mountains and Pietrosul Rodnei (both declared by UNESCO in 1979) totalling a 552,174 ha (that is 45%), as well as the Biosphere Reservation Danube Delta the surface of which represents 47%, that is 580,000 ha. Divided into relief units, most protected natural surfaces are founded in the mountain areas (52%), and least in the hilly (35%) and plain ones (13%). This significant weight of eco-tourist resources, offered by the protected natural areas present in the mountains is also reflected by the rise of tourist flows in the rural spaces nearby, particularly of those that practice eco-tourism as a form of rural tourism.
It's this precisely why the precarious state of a number of protected areas is worrying, as it's visited uncontrolled far too much by tourists. The voiced opinion of rural communities is in contradiction with a number of natural areas declared as protected, found on the very space administered by these: under the impulse of existing relationships between <partner villages>, some of them have started to learn about the advantages of protecting the environment, and the way these can be directed in the service of the community; most of them (like administrative authorities, or population), however, perceive in the presence of the protected natural spaces the very enemy of development, and the halt of the inter-village extensions in the loveliest places (such as river banks and lake shores, or forest skirts). There are a lot of locations where the tourist infrastructure (camping, picnic places, etc.) was improper disposed or even illegally set up in middle or very close of some protected areas (Bucegi Nature Park, Piatra Craiului National Park, Danube Delta, etc.).
At the same time, the rigours of rural ecotourism have been less mediatised, this being a further reason why in most places it's being practiced without a scientific background that would, otherwise, aim to protect this distinct potential. Practically, the current way of organizing and promoting ecotourism is chaotic and, quite often, functions to accentuate the degradation of existing resources. At present, we find ourselves in a favourable position to set up some barriers and apply strict regulations in the practice of ecotourism, contributing thus to the success of local long-term development. Its promotion should approach a stratified form of educational management style for each category of stakeholders that takes part in this process. It can be, thus, said that the practice of eco-tourism, in protected natural environments, requires the development of legislative notions and codes of conduct at conferences, round tables, scientific meetings, organised for both tour-operators and for the local communities. For the younger population, pre-school and school level, the dissemination of codes of conduct, related to excursions in the natural environment, should be associated with the ones in which eco-tourism is already practiced.
Starting with the statement of national and nature parks, as well as of biosphere reservations in mountain areas, the principles of eco-tourism started being familiar both to those that take care of the protected natural spaces, and tourists alike. Paradoxically, the local people perceive in this sort of legislation the beginning of a few constraints like: the interdiction of forest exploration and that of soil resources, or even that of limiting the expansion of their own properties around the protected natural areas, which would hence function to limit the traditional activities practiced in these rural spaces. It's undeniable that rural ecotourism impacts upon the protected natural areas that are already part of the tourist circuits, especially those lacking appropriate management and which render degradation obvious after a period of intense tourist activity. If, however, a corresponding management plan would be applied, then benefits would be secured for both local communities and for the rehabilitation investments of the area. Nevertheless, the support capacity for rural eco-tourism should be periodically examined in order to prevent the degradation of each eco-tourist space.
The rapid development of ecotourism in areas far too mediatised functions to show that its evolution, as a form of viable tourism, is underlying the very necessity of it being developed on a long-term basis. The more eco-tourists desire to witness the wilderness, and to penetrate the intimacy of local communities, the more eco-tourism tends to be short-lived. Rural eco-tourism, as one of the more recent forms of tourism, has assumed the principles of sustainable tourism by trying to apply these not only in the domain of natural environment, but also in those economic and social.
Health tourism in rural areas
The rural space in the Carpathians possess important and varied resources for balneary treatments, especially due to the abundance of mineral and thermal springs, but in particular to a diversified mineralization that is owed to the petrography and tectonic aspects specific to mountain areas. Many of these have been valued ever since Ancient times, contributing in this way to the evolution of both rural and urban settlements alike. Thus, the exploited climate and spring waters have brought value to rural communities and, today, constitute extremely valuable tourist resources. In Romania, at present, there are around seventy spas that offer resources for the treatment of various illnesses, out of which only twenty five seem to be of national interest while the others have only local interest (Government Decision no 852/2008) (Dinu, Zbuchea & Cioaca, 2010).
Health tourism can be practiced in many rural areas in the mountains, yet, at present, there are only two spas of national interest (Moneasa and Voineasa), and a further seventeen of local interest (Balvanyos, Cheia, Moieciu, Paltinis, Stana de Vale, etc.) that are legally recognised by the current legislation (Government Decision nr. 852/2008). From our field studies in the last few years, a number of rural settlements throughout the mountains have been discovered, places where balneary and climatic resources could be exploited in tourist activities dedicated to health care (Bilbor, Malnas, Dorna Candrenilor, Poiana Negrii, etc.) (see Fig. 8).
Given the distribution of these resorts over the Carpathian surface in Romania, it can be easily noticed that the Eastern and Curvature Carpathians areas possess the most important balneotherapeutical resources. Here, numerous water springs, gas emissions, and mud can be used in the treatment of various medical diseases.
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Cultural tourism in rural areas
Cultural tourism is one of the most widely spread and attractive forms of tourism in mountain rural tourism, and it is based on a greatly diversified and valuable local potential. The settlements existent in the Carpathian depression, today, still maintain the secular evidence of successive civilizations that have lived on these territories, which are of great interest for tourists nowadays. Apart from their picturesque natural frame, less affected by polluting agents, the tourist potential of rural areas in the Carpathians holds an impressive spiritual dowry, which functions to form its very cultural-historical component. Its rich ethno-folkloric potential, its architecture and popular building techniques, folkloric events, but also churches and monasteries as traditional places for peregrines, constitute the fundament for a cultural tourism in full development. What is more, the idea of developing an infrastructure around these conditions is being under consideration today. The number and sheer diversity in objectives of cultural tourism in the Carpathian rural landscape is so vast that these should be analysed in an individual paper, and this is why, here, we have selected and investigated as particular case studies (Maramures and Hateg Depressions) as the most representative of our own aims (Turnock, 2002).
In this sense, Maramures Depression is enjoying a complementary relationship between balneary tourism (which attract around 25,000 visitors annually) and the cultural one. Apart from the museums in Viseu de Sus, Sighetu Marmatiei, Moisei and Baia Mare, the existing thirty six churches, out of which eight are part of the World Wide Cultural Heritage, attract ample tourist flows (Barsana, Budesti, Desesti, Ieud, Plopis, Poienile Izei, Rogoz and Surdesti).
A cultural potential of great diversity is also found in the Hateg Depression and the surrounding mountains. Here can be found even overlapping historical evidence between the Dacian-Romano period, early Christianity and the Middle Ages (exemplified by Densus church). Due to their originality, to all these we must also add the Colti church and fortress (in Rau de Mori village), and the assumed to be the oldest praying dwelling made out of stone (Santamarie Orlea).
Sport related tourism in the rural Carpathian space
Nowadays, the Carpathians represent Romania's main tourist destination, thanks to its diverse landscape and the complexity of tourist resources with various possibilities of development. A great variety of sport related forms of tourism can be practiced here, such as: cycling, mountain guiding, climbing, hunting, but also sport fishing, mountain biking, rafting, off road driving, trekking, etc.; however, the most important component of mountain tourism remains by far the winter sports like: skiing, snowboarding, bobsleigh, sleigh-riding, and skating (Pehoiu, 2008).
Sport is an activity that is not necessarily connected with rural or agri-tourism. However, there are a number of sports that have penetrated the rural environment, given that it offers suitable conditions for these to be practiced, due to the existence of large areas with a diverse range of morphometric conditions, or when it is connected with animals (e.g. horse-back riding). After the 90's, many agri-tourist farms with special riding facilities have been built in Romania, such as: Sinca Noua, Bran, near Zarnesti, Tohan--in Brasov (BV) County, and Frasin--in Suceava (SV) County. Additionally, some of these farms organize special camps for horse racing (Vulcan, Sambata de Sus; near Rasnov and Sighisoara--in BV County) (Dinu et al, 2008).
Furthermore, agri-tourism farms and boarding houses make accessible large terrain areas for the practice of field sports, but also playground areas for open-air activities like fitness-parks, weight loss camps (e.g. Bali Spa at Cornu--Prahova (PH) County), and even for extreme sports such as: paragliding (Bunloc, Sanpetru--BV County; Padis, Hidiselu de Jos--Bihor (BH) County), gliding and skydiving (Clopotiva--Hunedoara (HD) County), rafting (Vadu Crisului/Bratca--BH County, Bistrita Aurie river--SV County), canyoning (Valea Seaca, Valea Oselu - BH County, Jiu river--Gorj County), bungee jumping (Vidraru--Arges County), off road driving (Moieciu de Sus--BV County; Valea Draganului--Cluj County), or any other conventional sports like soccer, volleyball, basketball or tennis. In this way, additional income can be generated, but in order to maintain the high standard of sport fields and relevant facilities there are, usually, required high levels of investments and maintenance expenses (Petrea, 2004).
In Romania, cycle-tourism or "tourism by bike" is still being tested out, in view of the fact that it is sport appreciated mainly by the tourists who prefer to travel in mountain areas, especially foreigners from France, Holland, Germany, etc. At a European level, cycle-tourism is not quite a recent activity, but it does seem to be in increasing demand today. Europe has no less than twelve cycle tracks which are part of the Euro Velo programme, extending both from North to South and from East to West. Romania is also part of the Euro Velo 6 circuit which crosses Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, and Croatia. The most important initiatives regarding the promotion of cycle-tourism, particularly that of mountain-bike are those related to the activities of NGOs and other associations of the kind. In the Banat Mountains were drawn 40 trails for mountain-biking in last eight years, these have lengths ranging between 12 km and 80 km and different difficulty degrees.
Nowadays, in the mountain rural area of Carpathians in Romania winter sports are practiced on approximately 88 approved ski-slopes spread over sixteen counties (except Feleacu and Sovata resorts). Overall, the Romanian ski domain is primarily concentrated in Brasov and Prahova Counties, given the most extended surfaces and the highest number of ski tracks these possess. It is important to note, here, the fact that the rural mountain area in the two counties is no longer in the charts. In Romania's Carpathian rural area, slopes and winter sport equipments are currently concentrated mainly in counties such as: Harghita, Cluj, Alba, and Bihor, as most of them have been built after the 90s. In rural area, skiing exists in around thirty four settlements, spread over the Romanian Carpathians curve, whilst the highest density is found in the Eastern Carpathians where winter sports can be practiced by tourists in 12 villages, the most significant skiing areas of which are: Izvoare, Mogosa or Harghita Bai (Dinu, 2009).
At the point of contact between the Curvature and Southern Carpathians, the number of rural settlements that are equipped with winter sports facilities is quite small (Bran, Moieciu, Paraul Rece), even though it is the largest skiing area in the Romanian Carpathians, concentrated primarily around the Bucegi-Postavaru-Baiului-Clabucetele Predeal mountain area which accounts to 2/3 out of the entire skiable area in the country. In most rural settlements in this region, te practice of winter sports is in fact a secondary tourist activity, nevertheless included in the holiday-packages offered by boarding houses in the area (see Fig. 9).
[FIGURE 9 OMITTED]
In the Southern Carpathians there are only seven rural communities fitted with specific winter sport equipments, despite the existence of a large surface with potential of developing any ski related activity. Also, it is important to mention that, in this part of the Carpathian mountains, can be found, in full development, the latest ski area, in Sugag village (Alba County), where a number of seven trails, with a total length of 6,8 km, had been inaugurated in 2010.
In Apuseni and Banat Mountains there are a total of nine villages where winter sports can be practiced. Among these can be found some of the oldest mountain resorts in Romania (Stana de Vale, Arieseni), but also a number of recent ones with smaller ski areas, but which function to add to the supply of rural and agri-tourism in well known places (Valiug, Muntele Mic, Garda de Sus, Baisoara, Baita, Marisel, and Capusu Mare).
In the Carpathian Mountains, in Romania, winter sport resorts were not built as a unitary concept. Most of them started from small sized villages that, over time, have developed into towns or resorts. Most specific facilities have been developed, mostly chaotically, around ski areas, and, only in some cases, planning elements could be noticed, and mainly inspired by the development model of ski resorts existent in the French Alps. Specifically, it is about the first generation of resorts, also the oldest ones, that have developed primarily in the vicinity of rural settlements (Paltinis, Stana de Vale, Harghita-Bai), and where the traffic for tourists had been divided into that for cars, sports, and pedestrians respectively. Additionally, in the past years, the massive expansion of built-in areas in the vicinity of the slopes can also be noticed (Muntele Mic, Comandau, and Rausor), in contrast to the European trends of resort development like the "ex-nihilo" model (a ski area located at a high altitude, away from any built space).
Some of Romania's mountain resorts, before their inception, were initially part of the conventional structure of rural settlements, being subsequently redesigned exclusively for winter sports; additionally, these inherited important tourist structures from the past communist period becoming, thus, attractive for new forms of tourism after the 1990s. This explains how, for example, some ski resorts such as Busteni or Cavnic were developed and later declared cities, or how smaller ski areas are today part of a bigger town such as: Straja, and Parang, Ranca (Dinca et al., 2009).
To the low level of expansion and exploitation of ski areas in rural spaces of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, there are also added other adverse elements which, in time, lead to their inappropriate valorisation. The elements that most affect the potential of ski areas, in rural spaces, are mainly related to legal problems (e.g. the rules governing the operation of specific winter sport equipments depend on all sorts of interpretations, and are, in most cases, ignored). Additionally, the inevitable technical problems that can occur function to severely impair the quality of any available tourist services, given the advanced state of wear and tear of both slopes (bad management or lack of snow in some areas), and of equipments as in lift or cable installations. These issues are mainly due to the limited financial ability of the local communities that are unable to invest enough to keep these facilities up to the standard required today, the slopes having more or less a local appeal.
The mountain rural tourist product and promotion
The tourist product is the outcome of associations and interdependencies between resources and services. Generally, in the tourism industry, there is a complex system of tourist services that implies the participation of a large number of performing companies and agencies. Depending on the structure and intensity of tourist demand, in strong connection with the existing volume, the weight with which relevant services participate in the formation of a tourist product differs with each case, depending on the organizer's ability to satisfy the needs and demands of the consumers, and in view of the condition of various individual areas, resorts, or places of tourist interest.
In essence, the mountain rural tourist product represents a sum of material goods and services capable of satisfying the tourist needs of a person between the point of departure and that of return in the mountain area (Middleton et al., 2009).
Specifically, the structural elements of the rural tourist product in the Carpathian Mountains consist of: primary components such as - lodging, food and transport--and secondary/auxiliary ones like - tourist welcoming, the share of cultural differences, liveliness, trip planning, sport activities (as riding in Calimani and Apuseni Mountains; winter sports in Arieseni, Bran, Garda de Sus; extreme sports like: paragliding in Bunloc and Lupsa Valey, gliding in Rausor or Clopotiva, rafting on Jiu, Bistrita Aurie, Crisul Repede, and Buzau rivers, balneotherapy in Vata Bai, Stana de Valea, Durau, Cheia), etc. Also, it's essential to acknowledge the characteristics of the rural space itself when constructing tourist product rural in character such as: open spaces, the contact with nature, heritage, but also traditional practices and forms of planning (ensuring thus the preservation of the rural way of life).
For the rural tourism existent in the Carpathians there is a wide range of tourist products according to geographic and ethnographic particularities, but also to those related to practice agricultural systems. Therefore, there is a large palette of profitable opportunities for possible investors, as in boarding houses, camps, but more significantly in bed & breakfast type of accommodation present in rural villages that are capable of offering a multitude of relevant activities (Sinca Noua, Sambata de Sus, Sibiel, etc).
Generally, the rural habitats present in the Carpathian Mountains offer unique products on the market, determining in this way a peculiar kind of tourist attraction of a particular specificity:
--values representative of our national heritage--the monasteries in Bucovina (Putna, Voronet, Dragomirna, etc), the ethnographic patrimony in Maramures and in Oltenia (Horezu-Maldaresti, Polovragi-Baia de Fier), fortified Transylvanian farms (Harman, Prejmer, Saschiz);
--pottery and ceramic centres (Corund, Marginea)
--centres that produce agricultural products.
The acknowledgement and maintenance of a noteworthy image in tourist related services implies the existence of a favourable proportion between the nature of the offer, the quality of services, and demanded prices. This proportion should be protected from financial abuses, but primarily from lack of professionalism due to negligence (cited in Nistoreanu et al., 2006).
In the promotion of rural tourism in mountain areas, communication systems should function to emphasize the uniqueness of the tourist product (as in the natural sceneries around the Carpathians, the return to our natural origins, the tranquillity and serenity of such places, the familiarity with life at the country side, sport activities, trips, etc.).
The promotion realised by agencies in the domain of rural tourism are in need of significant investment precisely due to the large geographical area of the existing tourist market, the high international competition, and also in view of the intangible nature of the tourist product. Given this final perspective, it can be said that this intangibility contributes to the enhancement of the importance in promotional strategies, the main element being constituted by the association between the very tangible attributes of these services, and through these being attached to a number of specific benefits. In mountain rural tourism, the main advertising strategies that can be used in the promotion of tourist products are as follows: informative strategy and documentary communication, as well as "seduction", aesthetic, and educational strategy (Boyer & Viallon, 1994).
An analysis carried out in relation to the evolution of the mountain rural product in the current market demonstrated that it is very difficult for relevant agencies or companies to maintain the competitive age required, since it can be taken and then re-appropriated by any other competitor. So, what exactly is required in order for tourists to enjoy a unique experience within the domain of mountain rural tourism? Well, the offer of additional services must be based mainly on tourist programmes that are capable to present points of attraction, original aspects, the most spectacular tourist resources, renowned personalities, and also curiosities of respective mountain areas.
Among the themes engaged in tourist programmes can be found: "Tracing the outlaws in Apuseni Mountains" (outlaw references, inns, traditional festivities), "Inside artisan's homes in the Carpathian Mountains" (potters, furriers, wood carvers), "Hunting in the mountains", "On Dracula's traces" (ruin and vestige visiting related to Vlad Tepes, camp fire story-telling), "On Dacian traces" (Dacian fortresses in Orastie Mountains--Sarmizegetusa Regia, Costesti-Blidaru, Piatra Rosie), "Mocanita route", different food festivals organised in Carpathian rural settlements ("Sarmale Festival" in Praid, "Pie festival" in Ghimes, "Cheese and Meat festival" in Bran, Trout Festival on Ciocanesti, The weaning of the lambs in Varlaam, "Racituri" Festival in Tismana and so on) an also some traditional feasts, called: "nedei" (Nedeia Muntilor--in Fundata (BV County), Nedeia Lelese (HD County). Likewise, specific circuits can also be attractive such as: mountain trips to various tourist attractions, to natural parks and reservations, but also speleological (caves and gorges) explorations, or boat, kayak and canoe trips on lakes and rivers alike.
In order to ensure Romania's competitiveness as a tourist destination, there is a need for adequate brand management, that caters the experienced tourist, and which actively engages all both national and international partners. In the idea that branding constitutes the key to success for any tourist activity, Romania has initiated a process of repositioning itself on the international market. Given the unique beauty of the "Carpathian Gardens" is favourable underpinned by the authentic warmth, sincere hospitality, and the lengthy and positive way of life of the local communities which protect the natural resources.
By way of "exploring the Carpathian gardens", tourists can discover the sought after joys and values of "the tranquil way of life in the countryside", peaceful living, a healthy diet and fresh air, places rich in lively traditions and spirituality. Equally, they can also get acquainted with the natural wellness and purity that is to be found in these mountains, as well as within the heart of the rural communities from Bucovina, Maramures, and Transilvania, or in the wild charm of rural life and nature alike, that are safely apart from any form of industrial exploitation and mass tourism. Overall, these are places of great beauty that have mostly vanished from Europe. (http://www.mdrt.ro/userfiles/ brosura_manual_brand.pdf).
The branding process implies the implementation of the very best of decisions in the interest of Romanian tourism so that the promise of the brand can become reality, and importantly to favour the return of past visitors, as well as their own recommendations to other potential tourists. Specifically, this refers to the unique experience of tourists, and particularly to the relevant areas and itineraries where these can be tasted. For this purpose, in tourism industry there is a need of organised effort in order to achieve a level of excellence in the quality of service, which should also be supported by relevant communication platforms and advantageous practice exchanges (http://www.mdrt.ro/userfiles/ brosura_manual_brand.pdf).
For a higher level of awareness and interest in Romania's tourist brand, a special programme must be implemented, that uses worldwide recognised magazines in order to cater a large number of media savvy consumers, which would improve their awareness and views over Romanian tourist products. It should also be mentioned that, generally, this awareness should be fostered using innovative channels, and on/offline tools. In this sense, we would like to emphasise a form of advertising new to Romania that can be successfully used in the domain of mountain rural tourism, that of viral marketing. This alternative form of advertising, more efficient than any other traditional one, makes use of Internet, e-mails, sites, blogs, forums, messengers, but also of mobile messages, humour spots, games, and both "word-of-mouth" and "word-of -mouse". Viral marketing is a phenomenon that, over here, has not been and is still not sufficiently researched, even though this is a low cost way of attracting a large number of clientele by companies in the mountain rural tourism, since it constitutes an alternative solution to the promotional plans used by most companies around the world (Lake, 2008).
The diverse features of the natural and cultural landscapes at the level of the Carpathian space in Romania constitute the very fundament for the development of a solid and economical sector in continuous growth that has rural and agri-tourism at its core. The rural space existent in the Romanian Carpathian area disposes of a great variety of resources and generates a multitude of themes for tourist activities making it, thus, a valuable tourist destination with possibilities of continuous exploitation in this sense. The existence of numerous areas that are protected, together with the presence of mountain civilizations that aim at preserving secular traditions and customs, prove to be defining for the natural and cultural Carpathian scenery.
The sustainable development of tourism in the Carpathian rural space implies, foremost, the discovery and inclusion into tourist packages of its diverse and unique types and forms of tourism, forms that should mould on the particularities of each region. In the Carpathian rural space, the most complex and difficult activity in finding adequate strategies for the tourist development of any area is constituted by the very study and the correct choice of tourism that is advantageous to each community or settlement with tourist attractions. The aim of this study was to emphasize the various forms of tourism that are suitable for each rural settlement in the Carpathians and, more importantly, to those that possess relevant tourist potential. Therefore, we hope to have managed the emphasis of most important directions through which the dominant resources particular to each region in the Romanian Carpathians can be exploited. Additionally, the use of case studies functioned to illustrate the extremely important role that the tourist phenomenon has on a local level. Along the Carpathian chain, numerous rural settlements can be found in the possession of significant tourist resources which, at present, are not sufficiently valorised.
The very existence of this significant and diversified tourist potential does not always manage to fill in the gaps present at the level of tourist infrastructure, of relevance here. Nevertheless, forms of tourism like eco-tourism, or various other sport activities like cycle-tourism, extreme sports, or trekking, can all be practiced without the great expenditure of the local communities.
Finally, for the purpose of gaining consistent income from the tourist activity there is, of course, the need of significant investments, especially in the case of winter sports or balneotherapy. In this sense, presently there is wide interest in increasing the accommodation capacity, the public, leisure and treatment facilities of tourist units, by local councils, by those who offer such services, and also by the locals who chose to contribute to such efforts.
Received February 5, 2011. Resubmitted March 20, 2011
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Table 1 Romanian mountain settlements with resources for rural tourism County Mountain settlements Other mountain with resources for rural settlements with tourism (after INCDT) resources resources for rural tourism Alba Arieseni, Albac, Bistra, Mogos, Scarisoara, Avram Garda de Sus, Lupsa, Iancu, Inregalde, Rametea Vidra Arad Halmagiu, Savarsin, Siria Moneasa Arges Arefu, Bradetu, Bradulet, Nucsoara Leresti, Rucar, Stoenesti Bacau Casin, Ghimes-Faget -- Bihor Bucium, Pietroasa, Bulz, Chiscau, Remeti, Suncuius Sighisel, Vadu Crisului Cosbuc Bistrita- Bistrita Bargaului, Nasaud Colibita, Prundu Bargaului, Susenii Bargaului, Rebra, Telciu, Tiha Bargaului Brasov Bran, Cristian, Fundata, Dragus, Breaza, Harman, Moieciu, Moieciu de Sus, Lisa, Prejmer, Racos, Poiana Marului, Predulet, Sambata de Sus, Sinca Sirnea Noua, Zizin Buzau Manzalesti, Siriu Braesti, Colti, Varlaam Caras Armenis, Bozovici, Brebu Nou, Ciclova Severin Garana, Sasca Romana, Montana, Valiug Cluj Baita, Belis, Calatele, Baisoara, Marisel Ciucea, Valea Draga- nului Covasna Arcus, Balvanyos, Batanii Bodoc, Miclasoara, Mari, Belin, Malnas, Valcele, Varghis Sugas Bai, Turia, Zabala Dambovita Pietrosita Moroieni Gorj Baia de Fier, Pades, Ranca Polovragi, Tismana Harghita Bucin, Lazarea, Praid Baile Chirui, Baile Homo-rod, Bilbor, Corund, Har-ghita Bai, Tusnad Sat Hunedoara Banita, Densus, Gradistea Campu lui Neag, de sub Munte, Nucsoara, Clopotiva, Costesti, Santamaria Orlea Geoagiu, Pesteana, Pui, Vata de Jos Maramures Bogdan Voda, Botiza, Giulesti, Poienile de sub Ieud, Moisei, Ocna Munte, Rona de Sus, Sugatag, Rozavlea, Sacel, Surdesti Salistea de Sus, Sapanta, Vadu Izei, Viseu de Sus Mehedinti Dubova, Isverna Ieselnita, Obarsia Closani, Ponoarele, Svinita Mures -- Lapusna, Lunca Bradului, Rastolita Neamt Agapia, Vanatori-Neamt Bicaz Chei, Durau, Poiana Teiului Prahova Maneciu Ungureni, Valea Cheia Doftanei Satu Mare Certeze Calinesti-Oas, Camarzana, Huta Certeze, Turt, Vama Sibiu Gura Raului, Jina, Poiana Cartisoara Sibiului Suceava Carlibaba, Ciocanesti, Fundu Moldovei, Lucina, Dorna Arini, Iacobeni, Marginea, Mestecanis, Manastirea Humor, Putna, Mol-dovita, Pojorata, Poiana Stampei, Vama, Sucevita Vatra Moldovitei Valcea Cainenii Mari, Costesti, Vaideeni, Voineasa Malaia Vrancea Barsesti, Campuri, Paltin Dragosloveni (Soveja), Lepsa, Nereju, Tulnici Fig. 1 Rural/Urban population in the Romanian Carpathians (2002) Urban 52,51% Rural 47,43% Total population 3.268.316 Data source: Population and Accommodation Census in Romania, 2002 Note: Table made from pie chart. Fig. 2 Degree of ruralisation in the Romanian Carpathians (2002) Urban settlements 73 Rural settlements 2479 Data source: Population and Accommodation Census in Romania, 2002 Note: Table made from pie chart.
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|Author:||Dinu, Mihaela; Cioaca, Adrian; Ratiu, Monica; Pascut, Andreea Diana|
|Publication:||Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2011|
|Next Article:||Copreneurship and rural tourism: observations from New Zealand and future research directions.|