Interview with Javier Garcia DEL VALLE, CEO & Chairman of Happy Tour Group Board, about the local challenging business environment, always surprising traffic, longing for his hometown, or why the Danube Delta should be ’a must see’ tourist destination.
In a recent press meeting, you said you feel Romanian. How would you describe yourself after 10 years of living in Romania?
I have always maintained that “someone is not from where he was born but from where is being fed” and, in that sense, after so many years living in Romania and having here my house, my job, my kids going to school here, having friends and so on, I really perceive Romania as “home”.
I feel, in a way, Romanian, because whatever happens to Romania, affects my company, my family and myself. I am not a “professional” expat that is moving every three years. I am a “different type of expat”; I do work for a private equity and I stay in the project as long as the fund would be in it. For that reason, I am more involved in the Romanian society (local friends, local activities, etc.)
What were the first things you’ve heard about Romania and what was the situation when you got here?
Honestly, even though I was in the travel and hospitality business, Romania was not really in my radar. As you know. In Spain, where I come from, there is a large community of Romanians and, like in any other country in the world with a foreign community, most of the news you hear about them are not so positive. Those were the first things I heard and read about Romania. When I came, indeed there were things that really surprised me: the street dogs (back in 2008 there were a number of them), the electricity cable hanging from pole to pole, the traffic (although I need to recognize that traffic is still, every day, surprising me…)
What were the challenges and the opportunities you discovered when you stepped in our country?
The main challenges are those that you face when you move to a new country, no matter which one it would be. The cultural differences, the different way of doing things, the way people interact, the language, etc., etc. In my case, on top of that, it was the fact that I was taking over a family own business (acquired by the fund), to which we needed to adapt to what we thought we should do; we needed to change completely the company culture, values, procedures, processes, and so on, being the only foreigner. At the beginning, it was not easy.
At the same time, Romania has a lot of opportunities, some of them, unfortunately, after so many years, are still possibilities and not realities as we all would have wanted. Coming from the former regime, there were a number of things to do and changes to implement. Some of them happened, some other didn’t.
As a foreign businessman, how friendly do you consider to be the local business environment, given the competition?
To be honest, it is a very challenging one. First of all, you are competing in a playing field in which some of your competitor, a number of them, do not necessarily respect the rules. In our case that is a major impact as pour business is of volumes with low margins. A small detail can make a big difference.
At the same time, the political administration is not helping although, at one point, you do not get disappointed anymore because you learn not to expect anything from them. The lack of man power in the recent years or the loss of competitive against other surrounding markets is also affecting, just to name a few. As I said, it is a challenging environment.
Give us 3 tips for living in Romania, that you consider are useful …
There is a fantastic book, actually the second volume was also published recently, named “How to Survive Romania”. In this book you get an idea, in a very funny and respectful way, of tips. The tips that I will give are: Attention with the traffic and the cars, they are everywhere, and they not always respect the pedestrians and motorbikes. Try the local food, it is really great. Visit the country outside Bucharest and the big cities, you will be really surprised.
What place in Romania mesmerized you and recommend it as a tourist destination for your friends?
Honestly, many places: Sibiu, the medieval Sighișoara, the Transilvania, The Mountains, although, if I need to choose one, definitely it would be the Danube Delta. I consider it, simply, amazing. A must to see place.
Have you discovered that magical place in Romania where to find something from your much-loved Malaga? In your opinion, which is the favorite city to settle in?
The things that I am missing the most from my home town, Malaga, apart from the weather and the family and friends are two; the sea and the fact that, over there, we do live outside, not inside the house or inside big commercial malls. Definitely because of the weather, we are a culture that we like to be outside and, for that reason, the city is full of bars, coffee ships, big pedestrian areas, where you can spend hours and hours with friends.
The ideal place for me will be the center of Bucharest (Lipscani) with all those bars, restaurant and coffee shop with terraces in Constanta, next to the sea. If a place like that would exit, I will move there.
Meanwhile, I am living here, in Bucharest, trying to take most of the city and the places it offers and, in summer, paying as many visits as I possibly can to the sea shore.
What would you bring from Spain here and vice versa?
As previously mentioned, the life outside houses and malls; pedestrian areas, a bit more of fish and Jamón Iberico. In a more serious topic, I would bring the public health system, the infrastructures and the customer service approach. To Spain, I would take the IT knowledge of Romania, the facility for Romanians to learn foreign languages (not dubbing the movies), the quality of many restaurants. I think our countries, definitely, could learn one from the other. We share many common things and the way of being. We are that far one from the other from a human point of view.
What do you think should be changed in Romania from any point of view?
First of all, the politicians (although I guess we shall change them in Spain too…. :-P). I would change the way many locals talk about Romania. The first step is to change the way the others are perceiving your own country is to change the way we do perceive it. If we talk badly about it, we cannot expect the others not to do the same. Of course, all the unfortunately, “classical” things: infrastructure, customer service, traffic, etc.
Do you think being an expat is more a state of mind or a temporary condition?
Definitely, state of mind. I do not feel myself as an expat. I strongly believe that if you move to a country different than yours and you embrace their culture and their way of being, the locals of that country will treat you as an equal. On the contrary, if you go to a country and you keep comparing it with your own one, you will never be able to integrate. Expat is a title or denomination give to foreigner moving to other countries. I do not feel like a foreigner in Romania. Not any more!!