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Tourism has often been called one of the most profitable activities and a major social phenomenon of the 20th century. It is expected that in the early 21st century the number of tourists will increase dramatically and consequently the revenues from tourism will increase considerably. Moreover, it is widely recognized that tourism is an important factor that can contribute to the development of market-oriented economy. It can be stated that tourism is directly linked with the cultural, economic and intellectual potential of a country and the current statistical data show that tourism is defined as one of the most rapidly developing industries. Tourism creates jobs and contributes to helping transportation companies, hotels, restaurants and banks get along and make money. International tourism is growing at a fast pace and Moldova could and should become a tourist company.

Mr. Richard Batchelor, an expert of the World Tourism Organization (WTO), paid an official visit to Moldova recently. He kindly agreed to share some of his thoughts with Welcome magazine about the prospects for the development of the Moldovan tourism industry.

Welcome: What are the major points on your agenda while visiting Moldova as a WTO expert?

A: My previous visits to Moldova as a WTO expert and member of the UNDP Sustainable Tourism Development Project team have been to assist the National Tourism Agency (NTA) develop its marketing plan and program of promotional activity. My recent mission was to advise on the formulation of the Moldova Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy, which the NTA, with the assistance from UNDP, is developing for Moldova's entire tourism industry.

Do you think Moldova has enough appeal for tourists?

Certainly. Just because Moldova does not have any tourism icons such as the Eiffel Tower, Grand Canyon or Taj Mahal this does not mean it is not attractive. Its appeals are much more subtle. The peaceful, unspoilt countryside and rural way of life with all its traditions, for example, are most attractive to stressed city dwellers. The Moldova Wine Route that is being developed will certainly be most attractive!

How could you assess the state of things on the Moldovan tourism market?

Since independence there has been a major change in Moldova's source markets. Put simply, much less visitors coming from the East and gradually increasing flow from the West. The industry is having to adjust to marketing itself within a market economy and to meet the higher expectations of today's tourists. There are many positive signs of this happening. Provided a strong, positive image of Moldova as a tourist destination can be promoted, a few administrative barriers removed and the product further improved, inbound tourism should increase rapidly.

What is, in your opinion, the professional level of Moldovan companies engaged in tourism business?

There are a few highly professional companies in most sectors - airlines, tour operators, hotels - and Moldova is reliant on them to establish a good reputation and image. Many companies, however, still need to improve their skills and service levels. This will come in time with investment in infrastructure and training.

What measures, in your opinion, must be taken to further encourage the development of the Moldovan tourism industry?

There are many measures that need to be taken. That is what the Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy is about. It will seek to identify who needs to do what in order to create the right environment for tourism growth. In general, though, I would say a key measure is to make all Moldovans recognize that tourism to Moldova can benefit them, whether through direct employment or sales opportunities, or through improvements to the infrastructure and facilities, that they also use. Also tourism companies need to recognize that growth in tourism can best be achieved through cooperative ventures, rather than by action alone. If everyone collaborates to promote the destination, all will ultimately benefit.

Do you think Moldova should be more interested in developing and promoting incoming or outgoing tourism?

I am a great believer in freedom of travel. My motto is "Peace through Travel". By traveling we learn to understand each other better and appreciate collaboration is better than conflict. It is very good that Moldovans are increasingly exploring foreign countries to experience other ways of life and appreciate their own more. However, for the good of both the country's economy and its international image, inbound travel is far more important. It is not commonly understood that inbound tourism is an export industry. Indeed it has the potential to become Moldova's top export. Both the government and the tourism industry need to work hard to develop tourism as a major foreign currency earner.

What is, in your opinion, the situation with tourism facilities and infrastructure in Moldova?

There is no denying that much of the infrastructure and facilities are below international standards. The Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy will identify priority areas for attention and investment. In the meantime one should remember that the longest lasting memories of any trip are of the people one meets. The friendly welcome and helpfulness extended by Moldovans are essential ingredients in making Moldova a successful tourism destination both now and in the future.

Do you have anything to wish Welcome magazine and its readers?

A request. Please do not tell too many people that the Opera in Chisinau probably offers the best value for money of any opera in Europe. I want to continue to be able to buy tickets at short notice on my next visit!

Thank you for your time, Mr. Batchelor.

Prepared by Vlada Popushoi

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