|United Press International
News. Analysis. Insight.
|February 28, 2003
|Dracula to the rescue in Romania
|By ERIC J. LYMAN
|BUCHAREST -- The Romanian tourism ministry is betting big on the idea that
a Disney-style theme park complete with special effects, eerie music and a
modern version of an ancient castle -- all based on the Dracula myth -- will give
the tourism industry here the jump-start it needs.
The government is finalizing plans for the $32 million park that will include
restaurants, hotels, an 18-hole golf course, a children's zoo and, of course, the
obligatory castle with spooky effects.
No word yet on whether it will also include a B-movie actor wearing white
makeup and a cape who jumps out from a behind a wall to exclaim, "I vant to
suck your blood!" but Romanian tourism officials promise they will stay clear of
cliches as the park is developed.
"Many of the details are still being developed, but we want this to be a quality
operation," a ministry official told United Press International, asking not to be
The extent to which that will be possible is not yet clear -- after all, the park is
based on the life of a fictional character, the protagonist in the 1897 novel
"Dracula," authored by Bram Stoker. The book is said to be based on the life of
Romanian Prince Vlad the Impaler, and the 520-acre site is being developed
north of Bucharest, near Lake Snagov, the site of an ancient monastery where
Vlad the Impaler is thought to be buried.
Though some Romanian history books treat Vlad the Impaler as a savage hero for winning an epic battle against invading Turks and
impaling captured soldiers on stakes in public places -- a practice that earned him his nickname -- it is Stoker's fictional version of the
figure who will be celebrated by the park.
There was a great deal of debate over the last year about whether to locate the theme park near Bucharest, the Romanian capital, or in
the medieval city of Sighisoara, in Transylvania, closer to where the novel is set.
The Romanian government, which will own and operate the park, commissioned a study on the subject from business consultants
PriceWaterhouseCoopers and was told that while the Transylvanian park would draw an estimated 600,000 visitors a year, a location
nearer to the capital would likely draw 1 million tourists. That translated to an estimated $11 million per year in profits, a figure that was
music to the ears of a cash-strapped government trying to pay for modernization efforts it hopes will result in European Union
membership in 2007.
"In the end, the decision to base the park close to Bucharest was an economic one," the ministry official said. "The location near
Bucharest means it would be easier for many people to get to the park."
Conservationists were another factor in forcing the change in venue. They charged that the Transylvanian site would have damaged a
historic citadel in Sighisoara and could have hurt a protected virgin oak forest nearby. Now some of the same people are unsure
whether it is wise to bet the country's future as a tourist attraction on a sharp-toothed fictional character best known for murdering victims
and sucking blood from their necks.
"I think what some people want to know is this the image we want to promote of Romania abroad," Lucien Ivanescu, 50, a
Bucharest-based American activist of Romanian descent who has worked with UNESCO, told UPI. "In the long run, will Romania benefit
from this kind of kitsch image?"
But characteristically pragmatic Romanians say they are unworried about that aspect of the park's development, instead focusing on
when the park will open (no official date has been announced) and how successful it will ultimately be.
"I am curious to know what the final product will be like," Irina Iacobescu, 27, a consumer products brand manager, told UPI. "I hope they
end up with something of high quality, something that will make people want to visit the park. Personally, I don't think I will go, but I hope
other people will."
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