After having read THIS article yesterday in Business Magazin.ro, my curiosity was piqued. I had to go and see the apparently dull-as-dishwater Romanian stand here in Paris at the IFTM, for I simply could NOT believe a country in need of tourism (read also understanding) would make so little effort at this important international venue running until 27th September at Porte de Versailles.
I was drawn in to a stand for 'Incredible India' first. Books, music, ladies in sarees. Full of vibrance and colour, I was somewhat transported and sat for a while watching a video. Although India has never been on my list of destinations, I felt myself hypnotised by it all the same. Perhaps one day, I thought, as I wandered off in search of Romania.
Past the area allocated to Thailand. There was quite a crowd since free massage was on the agenda. Great idea even if those undergoing the experience looked rather pained!! Mauritius had a cosy café filled with typical examples of regional gastronomy. Malaysia toohad tables set out with all kinds of goodies to reel people in. Intricate traditional costumes were on sale should one be tempted. Excellent marketing. The Hungarian stand was quite frankly superb, complete with a video that was jaw-droppingly stunning, places to sit and read the brochures and books available or simply to take the weight off tired feet allowing you to gaze a while at the bright posters adorning the area. Well done, Hungarian Tourist Office in Paris! Very efficient, since it was packed to the gills.
The French travel guide Petit Futé had a great stand too, where a charming man managed to sell me two books (Germany and New York) without much effort whatsoever.
And then, finally, up ahead, there was Udrea's famous green and leafy logo (nicked) for Romania. Oh good, I thought. Maybe they'll have some music, a video (an episode from Wild Carpathians?) of those mountains I miss so much, national costumes, a tray of goodies and some tuica. As I approached though, my hopes kind of crashed pretty much comparable to a needle being ripped off a vinyl record. If the Romanian Tourist Office in Paris cares so little about selling its own country at a time where Romania is seriously misunderstood and needs all the good publicity it can get, then it's a tragedy.
Bleak, shabby and depressing just about summed it up. The article from Business Magazin was absolutely right. A couple of posters on the walls. But no screen with deserving images of a marvellous country steeped in gorgeousness dying to be discovered and loved. No national costumes. No music. No trays of nibbles. And definitely no tuica. Not even a water dispenser. No books. No CDs or DVDs. Nothing in fact to draw attention or open up a world of beauty to the unsuspecting Parisian. Perhaps Romania's Ministry of Tourism simply does not want foreign companies to sell their country as a destination?
As I took photos, I checked out who was there. Two passers-by had stopped look at brochures. One man selling cruises sat there looking rather like a news-reader and had all the charisma of a dead pike.
One lady stopped me as I walked by. She told me about the company she worked for (assuming that I too worked for a tourist company, which I don't), Bonjour Roumanie, and offered me a brochure. Having obviously heard my accent, she asked if we could speak French. "Or English. Or Romanian," I replied, hoping to bathe a little in the language I love so much. But she preferred to practise her French. Poor thing. I gave her such a hard time. Jos palaria to her, for she kept smiling throughout.
As I flicked through the bumpf, I fell upon "Randonée: Les plus hauts cols de Roumanie" - 8 jours / 7 nuits." For the sum of 745 euros - combieeeeen?!?!!
Same trip: Jour 5: Brasov, Bran, Peles, Brasov. Very nice, I thought. And then I started to inwardly growl when I got to a sentence that waved red rag to bull: 'L'après-midi vous découvrirez le village de Bran et viserez la résidence légendaire du Comte Dracula.' Grrrrrrrrrrr.... grrrrrrrrrrr.
"It's such a shame," I told her, "that this brochure misleads the public. This is misinformation. Bran Castle,as you know, has nothing whatsoever to do with Vlad Tepes (how about using that name instead of Count Dracula? At least put it in brackets somewhere.). Why don't you add a trip to Poenari just down the road so people really DO get to a castle linked with him that is historically true?" For the price they're paying, you'd think they'd deserve a bit of historic honesty after all, wouldn't you? 745 euros indeed.
To her credit, Ruxandra (as she was called) kept her cool with this thoroughly irritating member of the public she had ended up with and explained how legends sell and how good it is for tourism. "I'm not disputing that," grumbled yours truly. "What I hate is using Bran Castle under false pretenses! Have you seen what has become of that lovely little village?" She shook her head. "It is kitsch de chez kitsch. Awful. Infested with masks and mugs of Dracula, false fangs, you name it, they sell it. It's foul!" She didn't seem to have a problem with that, really. And why should she. Why should I. Why even should you. But I do.
Her boss came over and joined the discussion. I asked her who had been responsible for such a sad and uncharismatic stand. The Romanian Tourist Board in Paris. "What a shame," I said, "when you could have had screens up full of stunning images of sublime and peaceful monasteries, the drop-dead marvellous views, a little bit of history, books...." Boss (a very nice lady) couldn't say anything of course, but her face said it all. Clearly she agreed and wasn't any happier about it than I was.
Despite the consciously misleading info in the brochure, I have to give Bonjour Roumanie credit. The boss explained how they also do trips for school children and have a lot of contact with orphanages, too. What a shame that isn't mentioned in their literature (as far as I can see), for that is something worth talking about.
I didn't talk to anyone else at the stand and no one tried to talk to me either. Perhaps they'd heard me moaning about Bran or the stand's representation of Romania and decided to give me a wide berth! I don't blame them.
But, how sad. The stand for Uzbekhistan was far more inviting.
While the rest of Pavilion 7 was crammed to the eye-teeth with a myriad of wonderful sights and sounds conquering senses and pressing all the right buttons to sell their little bit of exotic 'elsewhere', Romania stood there rather 'greyly', no effort made at all. It was as if it were yelling, "we are a poor country and this is as good as it gets. See, we can't even afford a couple of screens, a pile of books and a few litres of tuica. Don't come here! Go elsewhere!" Merge si asa...
And yet of all the countries I have ever been to in my entire existence, never have I known anywhere with more beauty than Romania, for it is such a quiet beauty - almost understated. Romania's beauty is shy, perhaps embarrassed by her own loveliness. She has a charm that brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes when it catches me unawares. History, views, architecture, its people, music, the superb sense of humour, gastronomy, literature. There is so much THERE - so much to embrace. And there is so much HEART. But the Romanian Tourist Office in Paris (not to mention the fools at the Ministry of Tourism in Bucharest) have NO idea how to optimise any of that and seem to care even less. Incompetence, ignorance or arrogance? I can't decide which.
A sad international fair for Romania here in Paris. Sad for those trying to do their job there at the stand. Sad for Romania's image. Sad for those who love it and suffer terribly for the slap-dash manner in which it is treated. Sad from start to finish...