Uriaşu Andrada-Ioana

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Uriaşu Andrada-Ioana
Third year BA student
Romanian-American University, Romania

This paper explores the impact of ecotourism in Romania and it is based on a case study of
the Danube Delta Biosphere‟s Natural Reservation. The heritage of Romanian tourism can
be developed, modernized and maintained through promoting and putting into good use the
principles of sustainable development, thus retaining a variety of resources, mostly
unspoiled by human activities, will promote greater interest in them, and the activities that
they generate will be more valuable and more attractive to tourists. This paper presents the
relationship that exists between the natural and cultural resources and the prospects for
development of the tourism industry in the Danube Delta. It is based on bibliographic
documentation, corroborated with a statistical analysis. The study shows the tourism
specialists‟ intense interest in exploiting lasting resources, environment protection and
territorial relief. The achievement of some tourism developments in line with sustainable
tourism, which aims at low impact on the local environment and culture, will determine the
diversity of tourism activities in the Danube Delta, introducing this destination to European
and international tourism.

Ecotourism is a more controlled form of tourism than mass tourism and recognizes the
necessity of environment protection and biodiversity Bran (1995), Glavan (1995), Dinu
Ecological tourism or ecotourism has become in the past 30 years the “main engine” of the
worldwide tourism industry (Honey, 2008). In developed countries, or in those that are
developing, ecotourism as a new or alternative form of tourism has to assume the role of
contributing to nature conservation and to the development of the local community (Bran,
Simon and Nistoreanu, 2004).
As an alternative tourism form, ecotourism appeared as a consequence of dissatisfaction
with conventional tourism forms, which were seen to ignore the social and ecological
elements of some regions in favour of immediate interests, of obtaining profit. Ecotourism is
considered a new form of tourism in Romania, one that needs to contribute to natural
preservation and also to the local communities‟ development. Nowadays, it is said that
ecotourism is growing at a faster rate than mass tourism.
In Romania, ecotourism assumes a more and more important role as a factor in the
preservation and protection of the environment, and in developing local communities.
Therefore, one of ecotourism‟s aims is to contribute to the improvement of the local
population‟s standard of living. Despite all efforts, the situations in which the local population
manages to gain economic profits from ecotourism are rare. Romania‟s situation is often
mentioned with reference to this (Turnock, 1999).

The Danube springs from Germany, with tributaries arising in ten countries. It passes four
capitals, and, after 2860 km, forms a delta that ends in the Black Sea. On Romanian
territory, the Danube Delta is situated in the southeast, bordered in the southwest by the
Dobrogea plateau, in the north by Ukraine and in the east by the Black Sea. Its surface
covers 5050 Km²; of which 732 Km² belong to Ukraine. The Danube Delta is the second
largest river delta in Europe and is the best preserved on the continent. The Danube Delta
branches into three main arms, Chilia, Sulina, and Saint George. The first two branches form
the Tulcea channel, which continues as a single body for several kilometres after separation
from the Chilia. At the mouths of each channel gradual formation of new land takes place as
the delta continues to expand.
In 1991, the Romanian part of the Danube Delta became part of the UNESCO list of World
Heritage Sites. Around 2,733 km² of the delta are strictly protected areas. In 1998, under the
UNESCO Programme on „Man and the Biosphere‟, the Danube Delta was established as a
Biosphere Reserve shared by Romania and Ukraine.                    The importance of proper
management of World Heritage Sites is well documented, see for example Pedersen (2002),
and the potential benefits such status can bring are substantial.
The climate of the Danube Delta is continental with strong influences from the vicinity of the
Black Sea and its prevalent amphibian environment. It is the driest and sunniest region of
Romania (70 days with blue sky, 2500 hours of sunshine a year). The mean annual
temperature is 11°C (-1°C in January and 22°C in July), with mean precipitation 300-400
mm/year, decreasing from west to east. The evaporation is around 1000 mm/year, amplified
by the strong and frequent winds, resulting in long periods of drought in the summer. The
northwest winds cause frequent storms in spring and autumn. In the interior of the delta the
continental character of the climate is very pronounced.
The Danube Delta represents a very favourable place for the development of highly diverse
flora and fauna, unique in Europe, with numerous rare species. It hosts 23 natural
ecosystems, but, due to the extent of wetlands, the aquatic environment is prevalent. The
terrestrial environment is present on the higher grounds of the continental levees, where
xerophile ecosystems have developed. Between the aquatic and terrestrial environments is
a swampy, easily flooded area, home to flora and fauna with means of adaptation for water
or land, depending on the season or the hydrological regime. At the point of contact between
freshwater and sea water, some special physical, chemical and biological processes take
place, which have led biologists to consider this area a very different ecosystem. Musura
Gulf, north of Sulina, and Saint George Gulf are considered the most representative areas of
this type of ecosystem.
Situated on major migratory routes, and providing adequate conditions for nesting and
hatching, the Danube Delta is a magnet for birds from six major eco-regions of the world,
including the Mongolian, Arctic and Siberian. There are over 320 species of birds found in
the delta during summer, of which 166 are hatching species and 159 are migratory. Over
one million birds winter here, including swans, wild ducks and bald coots.
The Danube Delta is perhaps the least inhabited region of temperate Europe. About 15,000
people live on the Romanian side, which gives an average density of approximately 2
inhabitants per km². 4,600 people live in the port of Sulina, the rest are scattered in 27
villages, of which only three, all situated marginally, and have more than 500 people. The
town of Tulcea, at the western edge of the delta represents the gate to the delta. The acute
isolation and the harsh conditions of living, based mainly on subsistence, made the Danube
Delta a place of emigration, or at least of transit. The total population has remained
somewhat constant throughout the 20th century; there were 12,000 inhabitants in the 1890s,
and 14,000 before the Second World War. Romanians count for approximately 80% and
Ukrainians for 10%, with the remainder including Greeks, Turks and Bulgarians. Distinctive
of the region, but very vague as an ethnic entity are the Lipovans, descendants of the
Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church, who fled Russia following religious persecution in the
18th century. About a third of the employed population is engaged in fishing and pisciculture,
while another third is engaged in farming. .
The Danube Delta is recognised as a Romanian tourist attraction, well known nationally and
internationally. In order to have a low impact on the local ecosystem, organized tourism and
ecotourism are the only suitable economic activities for the delta. Rural tourism, as a part of
ecotourism, gives the delta community a chance of prospering economically and socially.

Many countries of the world see tourism as an important element of a development strategy
and within this context the Danube Delta is beginning to occupy an increasingly important
role. The demand for tourism in the Danube Delta has become worldwide, partly due to
significant changes in tourist travel motivation under the influence of economic, socio-
demographic and psychological factors. In the evolution of tourism in the Danube Delta,
external factors have an important role in influencing tourists‟ behaviour. These factors
include the provision of an infrastructure, changing travel habits, and political factors such as
open borders and favourable exchange rates. The level of influence of these factors varies
from one area to another or from one period to another, so the impact of each factor is
difficult to measure, but results of these influences are reflected in the dynamics of tourism
demand in the Danube Delta. Knowing the factors that determine and encourage tourism in
the Danube Delta – or that have the contrary effect – is becoming more and more necessary
for effective planning of regional and national development in promoting tourist activity.
Five measures of tourist activity will be explored:

1. number of tourists;
2. usage of tourist accommodation;
3. average length of stay;
4. tourism travel density;
5. accommodation capacity.

The number of tourists is recorded according to their classification as Romanians or
foreigners. Table 1 reports statistics for the period 2005-2008.

Year          2005     2006     2007     2008

Romanians 54074 42835 53322 78652

Foreigners    22887 11789 20445 17438

              76961 54624 73767 96090

Table 1: Number of tourists, 2005-2008

Source: National Institute of Statistics “Romanian Tourism” 2006-2009

As Table 1 shows, the number of foreign tourists is very low compared to the number of
Romanians and the proportion of foreigners is falling.       In 2005, 29.7% of tourists were
foreigners compared with only 18.1% in 2008. The decrease is mainly due to the lack of firm
contracts with agencies abroad and also because the Danube Delta was not promoted
internationally; and in addition the quality of the technical material base is below worldwide
quality standards.   The efforts of tourism agencies and local authorities working within
Romania are effective, as shown in the growth of Romanian tourists (from 70.3% in 2005 to
91.9% in 2008) compared to tourists coming to the Danube Delta from abroad.
A second indicator of tourist activity is the usage of tourist accommodation, that is the
number of tourists staying overnight in the region. This indicator is a product of the number
of tourists and the number of accommodation days spent in tourist establishments in the
Danube Delta. Table 2 shows the figures.

YEAR                                 2005          2006     2007     2008

Romanians                            105188        112091   112368   143748

Foreigners                           45974         27707    33610    30607

TOTAL                                151162        139798   145978   174355

Table 2: Overnights in tourist accommodation in Danube Delta, 2005-2008

Source: National Institute of Statistics “Romanian Tourism” 2006-2009

As is shown in Table 2, the number of overnight stays by Romanian and foreigner tourists is
changed dramatically over the period 2555-2008.             In 2005, foreigners took 30.5% of
overnight accommodation, whereas by 2008 the corresponding figure was only 17.6%.
When the average length of stay in tourist accommodation in the Danube Delta is explored,
the findings illustrate that this statistic has fallen steadily over the period 2005-2008, see
Table 3, with a maximum stay of two days being common.

Year               2005 2006      2007 2008

Number of days 2.56       1.98    1.96      1.81

Table 3: The average length of stay in the Danube Delta, 2005-2008

Source: National Institute of Statistics “Romanian Tourism” 2006-2009

The steady decrease noted in Table 3 may have many explanations, including the onset of
the financial crisis, companies reducing their budgets for organizing events and the collapse
of business tourism. For the past 20 years the most important tourism form in Romania has
been business tourism, this, coupled with the fact that there is no advertising directed at
individual tourists, may explain the decline.
Table 4 reports the tourism travel density for the Danube Delta. This statistic connects the
tourism circulation with the local population of the receiving area and is measured as a
comparison between the number of arriving tourists in an area and the resident population of
that area. For the Danube Delta, the resident population is taken as approximately 15000.

Year             2005 2006 2007 2008

Travel density 5.13     3.64    4.92    6.41

Table 4: Tourism travel density in the Danube Delta, 2005-2008

Source: National Institute of Statistics “Romanian Tourism” 2006-2009

Table 4 shows that the tourism density has varied over the period 2005-2008. From an
initial value of 5.13 in 2005, tourism density initially fell to 3.64 in 2006, and has risen again
by 2008 to a value of 6.41.
The final measure of tourist activity to be considered in this paper is accommodation
capacity. This measure is an essential element in developing the accommodation process
and is the indicator that has the most profound implications in establishing the efficiency of
tourist activity in the Danube Delta region.
The accommodation offer for tourists is diverse and includes hotels, floating hotels and other
kinds of ships, camping places, guesthouses, hostels and youth camps. Table 5 shows
overall data about the total number of accommodation places available, however this does
not indicate their quality. Dining usually takes place in the accommodation place.

Year                          2005 2006 2007 2008

Accommodation capacity 3806 4276 3400 3761

Table 5: Accommodation capacity in the Danube Delta, 2005-2008

Source: National Institute of Statistics “Romanian Tourism” 2006-2009

As Table 5 indicates, there was an initial decline in the number of places available between
2005 and 2006; and thereafter a growth back to 2005 levels by 2008. Whether or not this
growth trend continues remains to be seen.
In order to develop strategic support and to choose the optimum use of promotion
techniques, a SWOT analysis was conducted and the key points are presented in Table 6.

               STRENGTHS                                    WEAKNESSES

    the largest reservation of humid             few quality hotels;
     regions in Europe;                           high prices;
    ranks third position after Galapagos         more and more pollution;
     Islands and the Great Coral Reef as          the insufficiency of scientific tourism
     important biodiversity area                   development;
    the number of investments increases          few information centres;
     every year;                                  the excessive granting of some
    numerous original centres of interest;        locations in the Delta without precise
    an important factor in the creation           contract terms, which led to the
     and maintenance of Romania‟s                  destruction of the flora and fauna;
     image in the world;                          weak promotion;
    the greatest colony of pelicans in           a problematic access infrastructure;
     Europe;                                      insufficient river stations;
    the realization of symposiums                he lack of foreign language ability in
     regarding the Danube Delta image;             the citizens in the rural tourism
    bird-watching;                                chains;
    declared the destination of 2006;            the lack of the proper marketing;
    Sulina is a tourist destination for          tourism agencies without guides.
     young people;
    the foundation of new centres of
     tourist information;
    status as World Heritage Site

             OPPORTUNITIES                                     THREATS

    the creation of ornithological research      other developing countries better at
     stations;                                     promotion;
    the natural integrity of the Danube          lack of financial investment;
     Delta;                                       danger of destruction of natural
    the promotion of the ecotourism               environment;
     concept;                                     danger of over-commercialism;
    an increased interest for agro tourism       sustainability of tourist interest in
     on the national level;                        destination;
    the existence of available areas for
    the creation of websites for
    the invitation of European journalists
     to visit the Danube Delta;
    promotion as World Heritage Site;

Table 6: SWOT analysis of potential of Danube Delta
Tourism is often called a development engine (Honey, 2008) and may be a development
engine for the Danube Delta. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the Danube Delta is
a unique habitat, it is a world heritage site and is an important territory when it comes to
biodiversity. The question arises of whether the entire region should be promoted as an
excellent destination for green tourism or ecotourism. This all-inclusive approach would
require a great effort from both public and private sectors.
The development plans for the county of Tulcea are a primary goal, being a potential
economic source of growth. In order to achieve this objective a series of actions and
measures must be taken in both private infrastructure (accommodation and catering
capabilities) and public infrastructure (conservation and rehabilitation of tourist and cultural
interest objectives, modernization of the access to tourist areas and improved environmental
infrastructure). Action must also be taken in the development of services and human
resources in tourism, plus ensuring integrated marketing at a professional level.
The Danube Delta must also be seen as an area where it is necessary to protect and
preserve the environment, and tourists must be informed about the uniqueness and fragility
of the delta ecosystem. The challenge is to do this while promoting quality and
competitiveness in ecotourism. Hence, it is necessary to establish a branch of guides with
high professional and ecological values, to provide managerial and ecological preparation for
tourism providers, to educate the local population in activities connected with tourism.
Ecologic education among workers in all branches of tourism will become a condition of
professional and managerial education.
Two of the main objectives of the Association of Ecotourism in Romania (AER, undated) in
order to promote ecotourism in the territory of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve are the
creation of opportunities for small businesses in rural areas and the implementation of nature
conservation policies by means of planned development. Other objectives are:

   creating a framework for a European ecotourism label;
   delivering ecotourism training programmes and designing course materials;
   creating an online ecotourism forum at a European level;
   implementing the Ecotourism Certification System;
   running training courses;
   creation of a mechanism for certification of ecotourism products: programmes of tour
    operators, eco-friendly guesthouses and eco-destinations.
The Master Plan for the Danube Delta in Romania, to run from 2007-2015, is funded by the
Ministry of Environment, Ştiucă and Nichersu (undated). The Plan, designed by the Danube
Delta National Institute in Tulcea, aims to support sustainable development, and includes
five main objectives:

1. Improve the monitoring system for the Danube Delta ecosystems using satellite
2. Improving the infrastructure for public services, transport and communications aimed at
reducing pollution, community isolation and to increase the living standard of the local
3. Support the development of alternative traditional activities in order to reduce pressure
concerning the fish resources;
4. Support the traditional use of natural resources and the rural landscape, promoting non-
conventional sources of energy (windmills, solar energy, boats with electric engines);
5. Ecological restoration of natural functions of the Danube Delta ecosystems and of the
habitats of endangered species.

Ecotourism development in the area of the Danube Delta and Tulcea County must take into
account the principles of sustainable tourism, including:

   Minimize the impact of tourism on the natural environment, to achieve environmental
    sustainability, thus contributing to conservation and preservation of natural elements,
    with the return of part of the revenue produced by tourism to the protected area;
   Minimize negative impacts of uncontrolled tourism activities on local communities and its
    members in order to achieve sustainable social development; the development of those
    forms of tourism that do not disrupt the daily lives of people from touristic destinations,
    avoiding the occurrence of conflict situations in relation to the local community; minimize
    negative impacts of tourism activities on culture, traditions, and habits of local
    communities, in order to achieve sustainable cultural tourism; development of a tourism
    capable of determining the maintenance of authenticity and individuality of local cultures
    and avoiding saturation by foreign influences;
   Maximize the economic benefits brought by tourism development at local level in order to
    achieve economic sustainability of the communities;
   Education, preparing, informing – as basic processes of developing tourism; teaching the
    tourist in order to comprehend and appreciate the impact on improving personal attitudes
    about protecting the environment and reducing impact; the development of an ecological
    and educational centre for visitors, locals, local administration, rural and urban
   Local coordination; local community involvement and consultation about the sustainable
    tourism development; population taking an active role in decision-making.

Ecological tourism concentrates on environmental protection.      It is a recent notion that
intends to include the ways and the aims of a responsible tourism. Amongst the propositions
for the Danube Delta as a tourist zone, based on evaluating the recent situation and
included in the strategic plan, are: focusing mostly on tourism for pleasure activities,
secondarily on commercial and business tourism. In conclusion, the abundance of wild life,
especially birds, makes the Danube Delta a potential top destination for ecologic tourism,
however it is vital that nature remains undamaged and wild, the attractive landscape and
valuable cultural heritage is preserved, the local populations are welcoming and efforts are
made to improve the quality of tourism services.


AER, (Association of Ecotourism Romania), (undated), Available at http://www.eco-
romania.ro/en/ [Accessed 15 February 2010].

Bran, F. (1995), Ecoturismul in Romania, Tribuna Economica, Nr. 23-54, Bucuresti.

Bran, F. Simon, T. and Nistoreanu, P. (2004), Ecotourism, pages 39-40, 129-133, 145-160.

Dinu, M. (2002), Ecoturismul in Romania:       vis sau realitate, Analele Universitatea din
Oradea, seria geografie, VII, Oradea.

Glavan, V. (1995), Rural Ecological and Cultural Tourism, Romanian Business Journal,
44(82), 16, 45(83), 16, 46(84), 16.

Honey. M. (2008), Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?,
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Pedersen, A. (2002), Managing Tourism at World Heritage Sites, A Practical Manual for
World Heritage Site Managers, UNESCO.

Ştiucă, R. and Nichersu, I. (undated), Master Plan - Support for Sustainable Development in
Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve / Tulcea county (Romania)Logical Framework Analyse
(LFA), Available at
http://www.oen-iad.org/conference/docs/2_management/stiuca_nichersu.pdf, (Accessed 15
February 2010].

Turnock, D. (1999), Sustainable Rural Tourism in the Romanian Carpathians, The
Geographical Journal, Vol. 165, pp. 192-199.

The National Institute of Statistic, Breviar Statistic, Romanian Tourism in Figures 2006,
2007, 2009, 2009.

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