Figures from Romanian tourism website Romanian Friend show interesting changes in the way foreign tourists visiting Romania spent their holiday this Summer during the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite lower numbers, clear trends can be seen such as a surprising preference for tours in nature as well as a – predictable – reluctance to travel in larger groups.
“Before Covid, foreign tourists were usually interested in visiting our country’s top attractions such as Bran (Dracula Castle, Peles and Corvin Castle, Sighisoara Citadel and Transfagarasan Highway. The Old Towns of Brasov, Sibiu and Bucharest for its nightlife were top – crowded – destinations.” says Marius Iliescu, tour guide and founder of Romanian Friend.
But now figures from the booking website for tours in Romania showed travellers from all over the world, particularly from Europe and the US, had a clear preference for trips in nature, outside major cities or crowded hotspots. Hiking tours in the Carpathian Mountains, multi-day trips to experience village life in the regions of Transylvania and Maramures and wildlife watching trips saw a significant increase. It seems tourists visiting Romania became weary of visiting 'tight' attractions and crowded places like they used to in the past.
“Of a total of 9,673 tours booked by international tourists totalling 18,472 people (38% less than in 2019) for June - September, 61% were for tours in nature such as hiking compared to 39% in 2019 and 36% in 2018. We were anticipating this trend after the Coronavirus lockdowns, but weren’t expecting these kind of numbers. This shift was more noticeable with tourists from the UK, US and Belgium for example, but less so with those from Germany, Netherlands or the Nordic countries.”
Travel industry research show that international flights to European destinations in July and August reached only 40% of pre-pandemic levels. Changing travel or entry conditions likely contributed to low demand. Until 1 June, Romania was open for tourism only for European Union residents which discouraged overseas travellers from the US, Canada or Asian countries from making holiday plans months in advance like they used to. Luckily, vaccinated travellers and those unvaccinated coming from a yellow-list country but with a negative PCR test were not required to quarantine upon entering Romania.
The uncertainty regarding conditions of travel had a significant impact on the average number of days in advance tourists booked their tours. In 2019 the average was 18 days in advance, going as high as 20 for US tourists. In 2021 this number was down to only 6 days, with numerous tours booked 1-2 days in advance.
The combination of Covid safety rules, travel uncertainty, private tours and short notice bookings was a major challenge this season. “Despite our efforts to encourage advance bookings and having a very friendly cancelation policy of 1 day advance notice, most tourists were reluctant to commit until the very last minute. Besides the expected cancelation and rescheduling requests, we also had to decline a significant number of booking requests because all our guides were already booked. So lots of people who contacted us missed having the experiences they wanted on their holiday in Romania – which was very unfortunate for everyone.” adds Iliescu.
Another trend that emerged this year was that people preferred to travel in smaller groups. In 2019, 31% of all bookings were for groups of 4 or more (families, friends, etc.) while in 2021 this number was down to only 12%. People who knew each other no longer travelled together like they used to. The flipside of this was a 34% increase in solo travellers asking to join existing tours which created delicate situations. “Even if most of our clients informed us they’re vaccinated, they were weary of mixing with strangers and preferred private trips” adds the founder.
Despite all these challenges, the Romanian company was happy to see their eco-friendly and responsible tours getting a much needed boost after last year’s shock. ”Supporting local communities through an inclusive, vertical model of tourism has been our mission since we started in 2017. We’re happy to see one positive side-effect from this whole Covid situation especially small businesses were the hardest hit. And I think people also realized the beneficial impact spending time in nature has after being deprived of it. So we’re happy to help them discover Romania’s natural beauty – our country is known as Europe’s last wilderness reserve for good reason!” says the founder who is also a wellbeing and mindfulness coach.