Responsible tourism in Romania

Travel right in Romania

While it remains a captivating time capsule of unspoilt nature and rural tradition, key Romania responsible tourism issues involve protecting these precious assets to avoid them being cheapened by commercialisation or damaged by careless drives for modernity. Rural tourism is a vital supporter of wonderful traditions at every level - supporting characterful accommodation rather than bland hotels, encouraging protection of local species and environments, plus bolstering local crafts.

Animal welfare is another issue where Romania can benefit from responsible tourist input. In particular, show your distaste at caged or performing bears, and pointedly shun places that have them. Visit/support the marvellous Libearty sanctuary, and show an interest in other wildlife – and also native flora. All this shows your awareness of Romania responsible tourism issues.

People & culture

Sustainability & the culture clash

Adept at sustainability

Saschiz is the headquarter of the Adept Foundation – a charity working to protect the special countryside of the Tarnava Mare area and give local people a secure future by promoting sustainable agriculture and marketing of high quality food products, while encouraging ancient crafts and skills, rural tourism and nature conservation. The area - home to 23,000 people in 27 small villages - is also a focus of an approach to sustainable development integrating two EU programmes: Natura 2000 for nature conservation and LEADER for rural community development. The principles promoted by the Adept Foundation apply, of course, across Romania in terms of using traditional accommodation providing work for local people, and buying Romanian products wherever possible.

What you can do
Use local services, plus buy local food and craft products. And donate to the Adept Foundation.

Wooden crafts

Ethnic tensions

While Romanians are by nature warm and friendly, some historic ethnic tensions exist which may surface unexpectedly in conversation. The most apparent mistrust is between the country's 'native' Romanians and Hungarian-speaking Romanians, who can view each other with suspicion largely based on centuries-old alleged misdeeds. As in other European countries, meanwhile, some right-wing groups exist – such as Noua Dreapta (New Right) – who openly espouse anti-Semitic and other racist views. To this, you can add unfortunately widespread negativity around the country's significant Roma population, who continue to be made scapegoats for much crime and corruption.

What you can do:
While trying to avoid heated argument, you might ask people espousing antipathy towards a particular group to explain to you - “as a visitor unfamiliar with things”- why they believe what they do, and gently ask further questions to show you still don't understand why there is present-day negativity based on long-distant past events.

Wildlife & environment

Saving living icons & preserving the delta

Bear necessities

For years, bears in Romania have been trophy-hunted, forced to dance in the streets and trapped in cages outside restaurants. Kept in cruelly cramped conditions and regularly abused by their owners, these bears are now being rescued and brought to Libearty near Brasov, Romania's largest bear sanctuary. It was founded by Cristina Lapis, who was spurred to action in 1998 after seeing three bears in a small cage outside a restaurant in central Romania where they were used to attract customers.

In 2007 Romania joined the European Union and that brought new laws including the EU Zoo Directive - which meant all zoos in Romania had to come up to a certain standard of animal management. Many zoos could not comply and the bears in these zoos faced euthanasia - but were saved by being re-homed in the bear sanctuary.

The Libearty bear sanctuary - based in oak forests above the town of Zarnesti in central Transylvania - conducts regular tours for visitors to see around 80 bears enjoying life in 70 hectares of forested sanctuary areas, where they can climb trees, swim in pools and forage naturally. The sanctuary also offers unique opportunities for more committed visitors to work with the bears. The sanctuary has also helped to create better awareness of the issues affecting bears in Romania, and enjoys a high media profile to become one of the country's primary symbols of optimism for the protection of Romania's rich natural environment.

To visit, you need to contact the Libearty office in Brasov with details of when you'd like to arrive - please give a few days notice. Contact details are on their website.

What you can do
Take a Libearty tour or make a donation at the Sanctuary website. For even closer involvement, volunteer to work with the bears through Responsible Travel. Make your disapproval clear anywhere you see caged or performing bears. And buy the book Bear Sanctuary from the Sanctuary website.

Bear in a cage

Preserving the Delta

During the 1980s, the Danube Delta suffered significant damage from economically and environmentally disastrous large-scale agricultural and fish farming developments sponsored by the Ceasescu regime, which caused degradation and loss of wetlands and led to soil salinisation and the virtual extinction of wild carp in the region. More than 15,000 hectares of wetlands have now been restored, and management of this vast region has developed ways to balance public use with conservation, and to encourage sustainable tourism, providing opportunities to diversify livelihoods in the region. Some areas have been put under special Reserve protection, including some navigable sections of the Danube, the Saraturile Murighiol Plopu brackish lake and Razim-Sinoie lagoon.

Tourism is an important and growing activity in the Reserve - although currently only providing just over 2 percent of the region's employment, compared to over 63 percent for fishing and agriculture. Romanian tourists outnumber foreign visitors by four-to-one but you can help change that - but be sure to travel responsibly.

What you can do
Choose accommodation and tours run by local people. Do not venture willy-nilly into specially protected areas - stick to designated visitor areas for exploration, photographic safaris, birdwatching and sport fishing. Make a point of visiting some of the Delta's traditional fishing communities, showing an interest in their culture and lifestyle - and be sure to try some of the delicious local food, including the justly-renowned Delta fish soup!


Responsible tourism tips

Travel better in Romania

  • Romanians can exhibit what can seem surprising candour and lack of conformity to some social 'rules' familiar to Western European visitors. People will happily smoke, smoke and talk where they aren't technically supposed to. You may also be surprised at what may seem overly-personal questioning about your views on all kinds of subjects, how much you earn and other things deemed generally off-limit in the UK. But they aren't being rude – it's just part of a Romanian belief in being open about what you think so they can understand where you're coming from!

  • At Responsible Travel, we do not support keeping dolphins in captivity. On Romania's Black Sea coast there is a dolphinarium where these creatures perform for tourists several times daily - which we urge you not to visit. For more information on our stance, and on where to see these marine mammals in the wild, take a look at our Dolphin watching guide.
Photo credits: [Local crafts: Kathy McGraw] [Caged bear: Nick Taylor] [Fish: Austin Donisan] [Smoking: Cristi Breban]
Written by Norman Miller
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