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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Dracula Tourism in Romania - Page 3

Written by Jonathan Cox
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Dracula Souvenirs on the Rise

      Since it was censored by the Communist regime that ruled until 1989, Dracula has gone from hushed-up topic to mainstay of the Romanian tourism industry. Perhaps the most telling example of how Dracula tourism has taken over traditional tourism in Romania’s villages is the proliferation of mass-produced Dracula souvenirs.

      Many of the souvenir shop owners I interviewed, whether in Bran or Sighisoara, sold exactly the same souvenirs, likely from the same Chinese assembly line, according to Dr. Anca Tudoricu, an assistant professor of tourism studies at the University of Bucharest. 

      Meanwhile, the market for traditional handicrafts is in decline. While the shops stock hand-woven shirts and figurines, these are expensive and don’t sell well. A shot glass with Vlad Tepes’s face on it sells for less than a dollar, but the cheapest handicraft sells for at least $10. Romania is often a budget destination for travelers, and few have extra money to spend on expensive souvenirs.

      One kiosk-owner in the “Castle of Horror” shopping complex near Bran Castle remarked on the lack of demand for authentic souvenirs. She said, “Tourists come and take a picture with the authentic souvenirs to show their friends, but they buy the cheap Dracula souvenirs.” 

      Pointing to some small wooden figurines, she continued “I bought these all for nothing. They sit on the shelf for two years, while I have to restock the souvenirs with Dracula on them every month.” 

      Most of the younger shop-owners see this Dracula tourism as a necessary evil. As one worker in the Castle of Horror remarked, “Sure, it’s bad for the culture, but we need the money!” 

      Dr. Roberta Bustin would beg to differ. An American who worked as a chemist at NASA and now runs the House on the Rock coffee shop in the old city of Sighisoara, Bustin has worked with various humanitarian organizations in the city for more than a decade. During this time she saw prices for food and lodging in Sighisoara skyrocket after Dracula Park was proposed. Far from causing wealth to trickle down to the down-and-out in Sighisoara, Dracula tourism just makes it harder for them to afford food and housing, she says. “The business community feels that Dracula jobs are seasonal, and just the idea of a Dracula Park being constructed drove up the price of living in the city.”

      Seeing the decline of traditional handicrafts, and facing economic troubles, some shop-owners from the older generation have become nostalgic for the days when cultural authenticity (or at least the state’s idea of authenticity) was law. One such person is Dr. Ioan Prahoveanu, who the other kiosk owners in Bran simply call “Professor.” Prahoveanu was the director of Bran Castle, and is the author of several guides exploring the Dracula myth and its connection to Vlad Tepes.  

      He remarked that, under the Communist regime, the government prevented the sale of Dracula souvenirs, but with Ceausescu’s fall in 1989 the floodgates opened. Shops began selling whatever tourists wanted, and what they wanted, predictably, was more Dracula souvenirs. Dr. Prahoveanu noted that this has led to confusion about the actual connection of Vlad Tepes (a Romanian folk hero) to Dracula.

      Just 100 feet from the kiosks is the villa that houses the managerial offices of the Castle’s staff. Dr. Alex Priscu, Director of Marketing, met me there to talk about the proliferation of Dracula souvenirs. His camelhair coat and nice office contrasted sharply with the open-air souvenir kiosks outside, and so did his perspective on Dracula tourism.

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Last modified on Monday, 30 June 2014

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