Lessons learned from rebranding Romania for 5 years. 

By Yvette Larsson, Founder of The Bucharest Lounge , a Rebrand Romania Movement, TEDx Speaker

Rebranding Romania as a country and branding Bucharest as a city do come with a set of challenges and strengths.
Assumption: The image of Romania abroad is still a very dark one and the discrepancy of what Romania has to offer as opposed to what people think, is huge. The possibility for people to buy a ticket to visit Romania is not so high. 

In Scandinavia, if you would ask people about Romania, there is a high probability that they would instantly think of the beggars we see in front of our grocery stores in Sweden. If you would dig in deeper and ask further, they would probably also mention the badly kept orphanages under the 1980’s, and a general picture, painted in grey, brown and black would occur.
People know very little about Romania as a country and the Romanians as a people. Some people I meet in Romania say ‘It is ignorant’. I would say it’s more complex than that.

We live in a world now, when we can search for information on the net and we can find whatever it is we believe and hold true. We can join groups on FB, LinkedIn and other social media in order to get our daily chat with people who we are inspired by. We can also be overwhelmed with information, hence we become niched in what we search for.
All of us are our own media channel and we send from that channel every day if we are on FB or LinkedIn, Instagram or any other social media channel. Some channels grow big.

When branding Romania as a country on social media – because that is where people are to start with – I do believe that organisations and all of us who are in the tourism sector, needs to treasure one thing high and that is : the human connection.
The most fundamental needs that a human being have, are to be seen and to be loved. The first thing a newborn child wish, is to get close to mum. A newborn child love being kept close and study faces. When we grow up we like to hear a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ from the store we enter and leave. We like it when somebody come towards us and are happy and cheerful, in the morning, at work.
 Same thing with social media. We need to make Romania be seen. Under Communism there were paradoxally more Scandinavians travelling and appreciating Romania than now. I was one of them, visiting Mamaia in 1985.
Today Romania is not really seen for what it is , but for what massmedia chooses to notoriously portray Romania. In addition very few people travel there , and the picture just stay cemented, as very few people can spread the good words about how Romania really is.

One need to understand the dramaturgy of massmedia in the scope of the challenges of rebranding Romania. The extremes of good and bad, black and white, we and them. Conflicts. Those are the things that gives focus in traditional mass media.

I have been lobbying Swedish massmedia since 1990 in order for them to widen the horizon on the types of articles produced about Romania, but with almost no result. My mum and I are reading and exchanging pretty much most of what is written in Swedish press about Romania since long ago.

I have personally given up on massmedia now and put my dedication and hope in the possibility of new media, social media and the democratisation of societies , that can be possible, if we use internet intelligently, learning from each other, spreading good ideas that change the world. I am indeed an idealist , has been and probably will be always. It keeps me going.

What is needed and connects us all, in the scope of Romania are : real stories about real people. They are way better than posting a picture of a yet interesting castle, but without an attaching story. Understand me right. That castle may be very interesting and fascinating. But with the wrong way of communicating, that castle organization, wanting to attract people there, to the castle, will end up being unsuccessful. Compare marketing with story-telling. We don’t want traditional marketing any longer ! We want to build communities with people who likes the same things as ourselves , where we can connect and grow what it is we are interested in. So forget about adding price tags and using marketing kind of language when wanting to invite people to Romania.
When it comes to technical data and information they may serve well as text for further reading in a post, but what is really succesfull is the close -to- home, heartfelt, stories that people all around the globe can relate to. The birth of a child, growing up, marriage, starting and ending school, making huge leaps and being courageous, fulfilling dreams and being adventurous, the change of season, the sunrise and the sunset, the warmth , the extreme cold, the things that grow, the fun we have with friends partying, the intellectuals, the philosphers , the heroes, the history, the music, the paintings, the culural heriatge, the food we eat, and so forth. With the example of the castle you need personal stories, a hero who is connected to the castle, some fantastic pictures of the landscape in the neighbourhood, some people dressed in colourful traditional clothing – and the adjoint human story.
Get the picture ?

When it comes to being courageous Seth Godin talks about the sneezers, the ones who wants to try things first and they are often ahead of their times. Those people who pave the way and often challenge the status quo. They would be the ones who would be explorers in the olden days, and dared to jump on a boat and discover new frontiers.

In short, these people are the ones who would gladly try out a new tourist destination. We need to focus a bit on them , in order to get them to travel to Romania and get the buzz going about Romania.

Every day, since an autumn day in 2011, have I been writing stories about Romania, short and long. If you would ask me what Romania has to offer , this would be my answers, starting with the concepts first as in humanity, hospitality, friendliness, sustainability, eco- all and village life values. Those are some of the concepts sticking out.

Then add:
Food, tasty Romanian food. It is undiscovered yet – in a world where food is hot and where there are huge productions of food TV, recipe books and so forth. Romania has a huge potential in the Food and Wine sector of traveling. I didn’t see any good Romanian recipe books on the shelves yet and I am still searching for a great Romanian Foodie YouTuber. Bring zacusca, salata de vinete, and sarmale to the world ! Tsaziki and guacamole are both famous and both delicious, but one can widen ones horizons, right ?
Landscapes: discovering the Carpathian Mountains which almost only Romanias knows about. When in Romania and talking to Romanians I sometimes have the feeling that people think that the Carpathian Mountains are widely know abroad. So is not the case. They could be. They offer a green, lush amazing place to be discovered. Hiking and skiing in Romania is vaguely known outside its country’s borders. Adventure lies in Transfagarasan and Transalpina. Exploring the Danube Delta and staying in Dobrogea with their white and blue houses. Lots of people would find peace in the Romanian countryside.
Cities. Bucharest as a capital of course, needs a real branding campaign to position itself as a European capital and a new weekend destination to attract people to come and visit. The identity of Bucharest is vague or almost non-existant. 

The Experience Bucharest campaign has all possibility to change the game. 

-What is Bucharest ?
The answers must be the campaign focus.

A combination of social media campaigns and IRL campaigns would be needed. Airline companies flying to Bucharest could work more with fun events during for example summer, where people are , to get the buzz going about funky, interesting Bucharest.
There are so many beautiful and breath taking cities in Romania that deserves a good note. Sibiu, Sigishoara, Brasov,Cluj, Targoviste, Alba Iulia and many, many more.
Art. Romanians are highly artistic and aesthetic people and there are so many fascinating museums to visit. The Village Museum, the Peasant’s Museum for example. I remember first time in Bucharest , in 2011, going to the National Museum of Art of Romania and there was like a treasure box opening up for me. I started to learn of artists and painters whose names I never had heard of. I do believe that art in eastern Europe is too little known and I think the traveler who is looking for a more classical holiday can well combine museums and concerts, in not only Bucharest, but other Romanians cities too.
Art is also the finely handprinted eggs and the more robust woodwork of the entrences of a house in Maramures. Art is also the contemporary art and design that is to be found in Romania which is also not so well known. I love modern artists who blend in ancient symbolism into their modern design. It invites us to discover history.
Markets Romania has an abundance of them. I know the ones in Bucharest very well. I love coming to the Peasant’s Museum and spend the day there looking at IA – The Romanian blouse, wooden spoons, beautifully decorated rugs, finely embroidered table cloths, interesting antiques, contemporary art , books with ancient symbols, old maps, jewellery and so much more.
Folklore and the Village life. I do believe that there is a huge potential in the presentation of the folklore and the Romanian village life. The Romanian blouse is luckily getting a lot of attention now and people are finding their way to appreciate it and even making it. That is how culture continues , from generation to generation. The dancing of hora and the strong community life that is also represented out in the different regions in Romania, are strong contributors for the beautiful experience of Romania.
All that is eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle you can find in Romania. A stressed out person can find his or her haven in the Romanian countryside. I believe in eco-tourism as in staying in a Bed and Breakfast where all is produced ‘acasa’, where the guest is a conscious guest, who even may want to participate in the chores, or learn how to cook some certain dishes. Again , I believe in another type of tourism where the travellers will find friends and will go back.
Spiritual. Romania is a very spiritual place to be. There is always a legend to talk about, a philosopher to quote or a proverb to share. There are the fantastic wooden spoons with stories and so much more. There is the Orthodox churches and the yearly life of an Orthodox family where Easter and Christmas are two fantastic occasions to meet and learn about Orthodoxy in Romania. The Monasteries are a chapter to itself. I will never forget spending the night before Christmas at the Petru Voda Monastery. It was a very serene and beautiful experience. The traditions are rich and with the collide at Christmas and the Midnight Mass for Easter there are some special moments that can be shared with the traveler who is curious to learn more about Romania, and perhaps humanity itself.
Heroes. In Romania you find many heroes and they can inspire the travellers to be a bit more courageous and to change the world around us. The traveler today is a more conscious one than ever before. What could be interesting is, for example, learning more about the people in the resistance group up in the Fagaras Mountains. I do believe that us people now, like to hear those stories to ignite some guts in ourselves in times that can be experienced like turbulent in Europe.
History. The same as with art. Romania has a history that we don’t really hear of at our history lessons that much. It has a very interesting location between east and west and I do believe that making a historical tour through Romania visiting places such as Targoviste and Alba Iulia, would be a very good idea for a niched group of travelers.
 Personally I like to be inspired by Stefan cel Mare. When I feel uncourageous and weak, I sometimes think : What would Stefan cel Mare do in this situation and all of a sudden my worries seem small.

I wish to brand Bucharest and rebrand Romania with the courage of Stefan cel Mare and with the elegance of the words of Mihai Eminescu.

Welcome to Romania !

One thought on “Lessons learned from rebranding Romania for 5 years. 

  1. You hit the nail in the head. It’s about humans and people in Europe when they think of Romania they think of the bad image of the people. They will not care about the beautiful mountains or the sea, because if they view people in a negative way they imagine they will not have a good time in Romania. So, yes they should be aware of the fact that you can go to the beach and you can ski and you can visit some amazing places, but what about the people? This is what I’ve also been trying to do with my blog and post positive stories about Romanians. Somehow, I feel it’s not enough, my blog is quite small and I don’t have that many followers as some pages, so I was thinking how can we rebrand better?
    I remember last year I was watching a famous Youtuber who travelled to Turkey and the national airline organised some sort of youtube gathering. They sponsored obviously their transport, hotels and they did a lot of touristy activities. I think something like this would really help, as videos really atract more people.
    The thing is your blog and facebook page atracts many followers but many of them are Romanians. The same happens with my blog, 90 percent I think they are Romanians, which is great because they do share posts probably with their foreign friends and relatives, but! I think we do not reach the audience that is reluctant to visit Romania and the audience that believes the negative image. I think there is a need for a different approach? a collaboration of some sort? between facebook, twitter influencers?

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