Vlad III Tepes

Many countries around the world depend on tourism to boost their economy. How countries bring tourists in is often a mixture of state and private marketing, the political and social climate, and popular conceptions and imagination, among other aspects. Some countries can easily align some of their greatest draws with their own cultural values and image of themselves. A prime example would be the position of the Acropolis in Greece: it is central to Greek history, a reminder of the might and influence the Greeks once held, and popular with groups from across the globe – the Acropolis Museum had nearly 1.5 million tourists from June 2015-May 2016!

But sometimes countries don’t get such perfect fits for both their desired image and their tourism. This is the case of Dracula and Romania. Vlad III, better known as Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler 1448, 1456-1462, 1476), was a 15th century voivoide (prince) of Wallachia (today part of Romania) and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

On the one hand he was a fearsome and bloodthirsty tyrant who inflicted countless tortures (not just impaling) on his subjects and enemies alike, but on the other he is often remembered in Romania, and especially in the region of Transylvania, as a great hero that stopped the Ottoman Turks from conquering Romania. Another issue is that the image of Romania as the home of Dracula gives the impression that Romania is a dark and backwards land, which could hurt its international reputation, but the myth undoubtedly brings tourism to Romania.

Back at the start of the 21st century, the legend of Count Dracula was leveraged to bring

Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the 1931 film Dracula

increasing numbers of tourists to Romania. Simona Miculescu, Romania’s first female ambassador, saw Dracula as the lure to bring tourists to her country, which would provide an opportunity to inform those individuals about the true history of Romania, not just vampire myths. The Romanian government in the early 2000s was still struggling with the legacy of communism and its problems: a struggling economy, poverty, and poor standing on the international stage. Dracula seemed to fight against these first two problems, so the government supported him as a symbol of Romania and tourism, even going so far as to plan a Dracula theme park.

The number of tourists visiting Romania every year has risen by almost 100% since 2002. But although tourism is an important component of Romania’s economy, providing over 200,000 jobs, its contribution to Romania’s GDP is much lower than those of tourism in Greece and Croatia to those countries’ respective GDPs.

As of 2013, Romania was still the second poorest country in the EU, after Bulgaria. Rising tourist numbers have contributed to a growing economy in Romania, but many have expressed doubts about Dracula tourism. Andre Codrescu, a Romanian-American poet, found Dracula useful for tourism, but worried about Romania going too far with ideas of Dracula theme parks and neglecting the fact that Vlad Tepes is seen as a Romanian national hero by many. Locals living in the Transylvania region of Romania have resented Dracula tourism for years. Others have started to stress Romania’s natural beauty, such as the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube River.

Danube River at the Iron Gates

But with the popularity of vampire fiction in the past decade, the legend of Dracula has undoubtedly been a draw for tourists. Travel writers have excitedly gone on Dracula pilgrimages and there are several Dracula tour companies in Transylvania. The Dracula theme park idea was floated again as recently as 2015.

Bran Castle, otherwise known as Dracula’s Castle

Today tourists flock to places associated with the fictional Count Dracula and the historical Vlad Tepes such as Vlad’s birth town of Sighisoara (also a well-preserved medieval town) and Bran Castle, now also known as Dracula’s Castle due to Bram Stoker listing it as the fictional Dracula’s home, even though there is no firm connection between Bran Castle and Vlad Tepes. But Romania seems to have distanced itself from the Dracula myth in recent years. Their official tourism site has a much larger focus on its medieval towns and castles as well as its natural beauty, exemplified by their slogan, “Explore the Carpathian Garden.” Meanwhile their 33 page tourism brochure only mentions Dracula once. The medieval towns and natural beauty of Romania offer tourism advantages without the heavy vampire baggage. While Dracula tourism certainly has its economic advantages, its side effect of promoting Romania as a shadowy and uncivilized country is a serious concern to what self-image Romania wants to project, both to its own people and to the world.