We chatted with Bogdan Papuc, executive director of the Association of Ecotourism in Romania (AER), responsible for our partner-ecolabel Eco-Romania. The AER has established Eco-Romania, their own Ecotourism Certification System, as a tool of supporting nature conservation, good environmental practices and the development of sustainable tourism in Romania. In this interview Bogdan Papuc talks about the importance of discovering places close to your home instead of flying abroad, the uniqueness of Romania as a destination and the ecolabel’s main focus in their certification system.
(1) bookdifferent.com is very proud to team up with Eco-Romania, an ecolabel that brings a complete country to the next level in terms of sustainable tourism. Where do you see the benefits in working together with bookdifferent.com?
We are very happy to team up with bookdifferent.com and to put Romania once again on the map of sustainable tourism. The Association of Ecotourism in Romania (AER) has been working hard in the past 10 years to develop a network of ecotourism destinations and to promote Romania as a green destination at European level. One of the tools we use in order to reach our goal is the Eco-Romania ecotourism certification system that we have developed 12 years ago. One of the main benefits in working with bookdifferent.com is that this will help us promote Romania as a green destination. At the same time, our joined efforts will help better promote sustainable tourism as an alternative to mass tourism.
(2) The tourism industry is growing rapidly every day. How important to do you think it is for European travelers to discover and explore closer to home/ their own continent, instead of flying further abroad?
There are still hidden destinations in Europe and Romania is one of them. You don’t have to travel too far to see large carnivores or to enjoy spectacular mountain landscapes. From the Danube Delta to the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains, Romania has everything one dreams for their vacation. At the same time, we noticed that people have started to become aware of the environmental impact a long-haul journey has, so there is a steady demand for closer and greener destinations.
(3) Following up on the last question, many European destinations remain mostly undiscovered. In your opinion, what makes Romania so unique and the perfect holiday destination for travelers?
Romania is still mostly an undiscovered destination for foreign travellers and this is also one of our main advantages. The Carpathians still have untouched forests and the largest population of large carnivores in Europe outside of Russia, Danube Delta is an outstanding destination for bird watchers and the villages still preserve a traditional way of life. Actually Romania is teeming with wildlife and this is truly unique for Europe. The challenge is to find a balance between development and nature conservation, while welcoming more visitors in order to preserve our nature and cultural heritage.
(4) Eco-Romania’s certification puts their main focus on nature & environment and local culture. Why is that?
This is because we consider ecotourism as a tool of sustainable development for rural areas in or around nature protected areas. Romania still has a large rural population and its rural landscape is shaped by people living close to nature for millennia. For this reason, we considered important that the certification system has a strict set of criteria on nature & environment and local culture.
(5) What is the reason behind only certifying small scale accommodations with maximum 25 rooms?
We consider that small-scale businesses are the key for a sustainable local development so this is why we put a limit on the size of accommodation facilities. Even more, ecotourism emphasizes local ownership and large facilities are usually not owned by local people because they don’t have the financial capacity for that. There is another important factor that we took into consideration: having a facility with more than 25 rooms will have a greater impact on the cultural landscape that characterizes most villages in Romania and it also has the possibility to attract large groups of tourists with a greater negative impact at the local level. For the same reason we included similar criteria for the certified tours: groups not larger than 15 people and at least one overnight.
(6) In your opinion, what sustainable practice should every accommodation facility implement?
There is still a lot of work to do regarding sustainable practices in Romania so for this reason we consider that any steps towards sustainability is important. But in our we consider that raising awareness and educating guests is still a very important practice.
(7) What is one responsible practice that you incorporate in your day-to-day life?
I use my bike on a daily basis for getting around which in Romania is quite extreme because of the lack of cycling infrastructure and sometimes chaotic traffic.
(8) To conclude: in two sentences, where do you see the tourism industry in Romania heading in the future?
The only chance for Romania to become a successful destination is to be the ecotourism destination for Europe.
Bogdan Papuc, executive director of the AER
Thank you for the insightful interview Bogdan Papuc! If you want to know more about Eco-Romania or the Association of Ecotourism in Romania, click here.