Bucharest has made it to the European tourist destination map one step at a time over the past 28 years. Many have been achieved, more needs to be done, the pros are still competing with the cons, and the competition is fierce. However, the Capital definitely has its cornerstones that are waiting to be promoted, even more than so far, which makes the city guide market quite appealing.
In a discussion with the Razvan Samosca, general manager, Bucharest In Your Pocket, one of the oldest city guides in Bucharest and Romania and a trend setter in promoting the Capital as a tourist destination, we have taken a brief, imaginary hike through Bucharest, to take a glimpse of the insights of the city’s current tourist guide market, of the city’s pros and cons, of the profile of the tourists coming to Bucharest, of what they mostly like or dislike and into where our Capital city is heading.
What’s your story? What was the reason behind starting the project back in 1999?
In Your Pocket (IYP) began in Vilnius, in 1992. The company slowly grew out of the Baltic region and Bucharest, as a dynamic city -even back in 1999 – was thought to be a cool, upcoming city that fitted the cool, upcoming IYP brand. It was a good fit. A young and dedicated team made it all happen, and the fact that almost 20 years later we are still setting trends in the way we present and talk about the city shows that both IYP and Bucharest must be doing something right.
How many tourist sights is your guide encompassing?
Not all of them! Back when we began we made a habit of listing everything the city had to offer, even if it wasn’t really worth a visitor’s time. That’s because back then there were few alternatives. Now things are different: we only list the sights (and indeed anything else: bars, restaurants, cafes, shops and so on) which we think are the best, the hippest and the trendiest.
How did the guiding tour market look like almost then years ago and how has it evolved?
It is not the guides which have changed per se but travelers. They are a lot savvier then they used to be. We have had to adapt to what they want.
What would be Bucharest’s cornerstones at present to make a difference from other Eastern European capitals?
It’s cheap, even by eastern European standards. Probably only Sofia is cheaper, but Sofia can’t compete with Bucharest’s huge range of clubs, specialty coffee shops and superb restaurants.
What are the Romanian capital’s pros and cons? Have you had feedback from foreign tourists? What do they (honestly) say about the city and being a tourist in Bucharest?
Again, it’s cheap by western European standards. Your money goes a lot further. That is a huge attraction. It’s also a small city, which people like: most places you want to go are within easy reach of each other, so the fact that public transport is awful does not really matter. The downside? Well, the airport is always top of the list: too small now for the amount of people who use it. The air always gets a mention in summer: people say the city is dusty. There are too many cars parked on pavements which people really do not like: it makes walking around more difficult than it should be. And the rip-off taxis of course… but now people can use Uber. But honestly, the list of complaints gets shorter by the year.
Where is the printed guide available?
Most of the important hotels from 3 to 5 stars, office information offices, selected bars and restaurants, foreign language schools, embassies, rent-a-car offices, etc.
When did you develop the mobile app for the guide? What is the feedback compared to the print version, in terms of traffic and others?
There is room for both products. We developed a mobile app because some people want a mobile app. Lots of people still want the print guide, but most of all people want our print mini-guides. We will continue to give people what they want, in whatever format they want it.
Your turn 20 next year…any special projects, plans to mark the anniversary?
Loads! But we are keeping them under wraps for now. Watch this space though.
How do you see the evolution of the tourism and guided tours market in Romania from now on? What challenges do you think will prevail?
Bucharest will continue to develop as a city-break destination but – as is already happening – it will need to compete not with other cities in Eastern Europe but with other cities in Romania. There is, after all, more to Romania than Bucharest. That’s one of the reasons we now cover so much of the country online. We have long said Brasov is the city to watch: if its airport ever opens watch it become one of the most visited cities in Europe.