Kester Eddy in Budapest -
For any budding foreign investor in Romanian tourism, browsing the official ministry
website is a frustrating exercise.
Sure, the site is clean and uncluttered, with English language pages. Sure, there are seven sections labelled promotion, development, privatisation, etc. But six of the sections are blank, while the seventh, as a click on 'Tourism Strategy' will quickly reveal, contains part 1 of the National Tourism Development Master Plan, a detailed, 163-page document laying out government aspirations until 2026 - in Romanian.
As the figures show, the practical barriers to investing in the sector might be similarly discouraging.
Foreign investment into Romanian hotels and restaurants averaged just €37m a year between 2005 and 2009; much smaller than Bulgaria, which pulled in €90m in each of those same five years, according to a report just issued by BCR, Romania's largest commercial bank.
If the sector were delivering, the lack of foreign direct investment (FDI) would matter little. But as the report notes, Romania, where the tourism potential is "one of the highest in the region," performs miserably on almost every indicator.
From 2006 to 2010, Romania averaged just 1.4m tourist arrivals per year - less than half the number in neighbouring Hungary - and who stayed on average just 2.2 nights, compared with an average of 5.2 nights in Bulgaria. As a result, and most critically, the average spend of foreigners was just €360 per arrival, compared with €390 in Bulgaria, €460 in Poland and €570 in Austria.
With a mere 13-14% holding degrees, employees in the tourism sector in Romania have the lowest education profile among their regional peers, but top the charts when it comes to permanent employees, at 95%; in peer countries the ratio of self-employed is around 15%. "Tourism in Romania makes up just 1.8% of GDP, compared with 4.1% in Austria. Clearly more FDI would result in higher quality services, more jobs and more foreign tourists. Compared to Bulgaria, where conditions on the [Black Sea] coast are very similar, Romania [should be] much better positioned in terms of natural landscape, such as mountains and the Danube Delta," says Lucian Anghel, chief economist at BCR.
Attracting foreign investors requires a little more than beaches, mountains and a banking sector able to process payments, however. As Anghel himself admits, Romanian inheritance laws - which allow descendants of former owners to lay claim to real estate after privatisation by the state to new owners - have bedevilled and undermined the sale of many potential tourist developments. "My personal opinion is that Romania should spruce up legislation to attract foreign investors; cases of descendants [appearing after the sale] are not the fault of the descendants, but the years-long procrastinating on the property repossessions by the justice system," Anghel said.
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