Romania’s national brand reloaded


 Mai 13, 2009

Infrastructure at the level of the Middle Ages. Poor or non-existent public toilets. The Dracula Hotel from Piatra Fântânele – the ultimate kitsch. A quasi-total lack of touristic information about Romania. Stray dogs. Uncivilized drivers. Rude waiters. Garbage, plastic bottles and plastic bags. Gray blocks. Local administration that is slow and not at all involved and responsible. The Arieș Valley which is flooded again with plastic bottles, one week after a great greening action took place with the help of volunteers. The old road of the Romans, located in the Tihuța Pass which is still in ruins. Sarmizegetusa which is not included in the touristic circuit and it is not accessible (except with four-wheel drive cars – when it is not raining). Fellow citizens who throw away empty packaging from the window’s of their luxurious limousines in the middle of the city. Extremely high and unjustified prices in relation to the touristic products or services offered. Black Sea beaches that are infested with sordid taverns and garbage under the sand above which mosquitoes swarm. Destroyed and unused spas. Lack of real and diversified entertainment. A suffocated capital city with more or less neurotic inhabitants due to the conditions in which they live. Waste. Small islands of civilization found here and there, with patrons, staff and services that are fine and which have fine prices. This is basically the product for which the Romania brand will be created. The story continues.

These days, I have been asked many times why I am not participating in the auction for the project of creating Romania’s brand, – the allocated funds start from 2 million euros. I always answered concisely: I have nothing to ”brand”, despite the fact that in the last 4 years I have written countless articles on this subject, most of them being focused on the idea that Romania is a corporation and its brand issues must be treated as such. The brand is a representation of something real, palpable, which has unique or at least differentiating advantages. We present only a mist of an incipient, informal, amorphous, peripheral civilization. I would have been interested in trying something if I would have believed in the plan I saw – a plan that would take into consideration revitalizing the tourism business, the facilities and the infrastructure, as I am used to seeing and discussing when approaching branding projects for client companies. That’s where the numbers, the plans, the objectives, in essence, the concrete, present, estimated and future, speak.

A brand also means maintenance. A concept that is not very inspiring for some, who only see the foamy part of branding. However, the maintenance part is absolutely real and needed. It implies having a strategy that is respected and adjusted constantly, valid and constantly updated information, analysis, visual and communication standards and customer care. An entire activity that must be performed daily. Ask any company, from large to medium and even small ones, how many resources of qualified staff and budget they allocate for this activity. Please visit Croatia’s website and notice how easy it is to navigate on it, the accuracy and richness of the information, its visitor-friendly architecture, its complex search engine, the beautiful and inspired photos, etc. Today, the Internet is a king. From my information, the Ministry of Tourism does not currently have a valid database that presents the complete and detailed touristic offer of Romania (not even regarding hotels and pensions information such as their address and contact details). This is another element of infrastructure, this time informational, that is missing.

Please go to Scotland and see how much thought they put in promoting their nature, their history and their traditional whiskey and the clever way they make money from it. Lots of money, drawn with a smile on their face and politely from out of the pockets of hundreds of thousands of tourists who are willing to pay. Or in Ireland, Croatia, Greece and why not Bulgaria.

Read the over 400 pages of Romania’s Tourism Master Plan – which is in fact a Business Plan – with information from four years ago at best. Please observe the lack of a product strategy that mixes everything up, from the Black Sea coast to Bucovina, to the medieval cities in Transylvania, the Danube Delta and city breaks without outlining a concrete direction, on a realistic basis. The document is the reference for the creation of a brand that would represent the country. If any large national or multinational company were to work with such information, it would be a total fiasco and it would follow a clear path to bankruptcy. Compare this document with the brief for the city brand of Budapest and see the differences – I read this document and it has only a page. It is consistent and it contains all the information needed. I think each of you saw the result when you visited Budapest. If you have the opportunity, study what the city of Cologne has done in the last 5 years. Or Vienna. It is worth observing and studying the marketing, analysis and communication departments of Cologne. You will be surprised to see absolutely no difference between them and any serious company in the world.

A while ago I wrote that I am willing to work on this project for a symbolic fee of one euro plus the expenses. Now I’m not interested at all because I realized that the object of work is missing. And because branding always comes from within, from one’s own resource and desire, self-respect, desire for improvement, investment and profit. Not from semiotics and communication campaigns that lack real support. I might be wrong. I might look at the issue with too much involvement and without an open-mind which won’t let me see any potential success. If there will be any success, I will say mia culpa and I will raise my hat in front of the authorities and strategists who created our country brand in the form of a logo, slogan and print and TV campaigns.

The task of my colleagues, some of them from the IAA, was that of writing a specifications workbook was impossible because they did not have a product to describe. And yet, they managed to complete the task with flying colours, as good as possible under these circumstances. It was a professional effort for which they deserve to be properly congratulated. However, the lack of a concrete tourism product, a solid and documented tourism business plan and current and relevant information will inevitably lead to confusing discussions and choices, whatever they may be, that will end up to be uninspired. The specifications workbook states the collection of up-to-date information from around the world in order to study the perception and desires of a potential consumer in Romania. I repeat market research is good if you know what direction you want to follow, based on your own strengths, your differentiating attributes and your uniqueness -if these elements actually exist.

Free Tip no. 1: A very good website, the potential to go viral on the internet, the strategic use of forums in revealing positive experiences about Romania and the subtle and smart PR could generate a meaningful and positive ”word of mouth”. Only if they are based on a realistic and concrete communication strategy rooted in real tourism potential. These might cost less money and fewer resources while bringing more spectacular results than the slogan, the logo and the print and TV campaigns.

Free Tip no. 2: Pragmatically speaking, at the moment, there are very few differentiating or unique things, facts and places of real touristic interest in Romania. A brand and communication strategy should take all of these facts into account, without having unrealistic assumptions for the country’s potential. These could also lead to the reverse of the medal, avoiding Romania and the deceived expectations of tourists. See the example of the German tourists that were brought to the Romanian seaside a few years ago and who left after the first days, demanding their money back. Another direct result was the termination of the contract by the tour operator – a very large one – and the total exclusion of the Romanian seaside from its offer.

Free Tip no. 3:
Recreate the ONT;
Create a marketing department according to the model and methods of a serious company;
Start creating the product in accordance with the real possibilities determined by budgets and infrastructure;
Allocate money and facilities to tour operators and over five years of sustained work and concrete results, analysis and studies on real data and market feedback -> Write a new specification. A real one!