Tag Archives: tourism

What Tourists Expect

If you go to a restaurant in Moldova, don’t be surprised if the waiter doesn’t give you a big smile, offer menus to everyone at your table or serve all of the entrees together.

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The waiter may also not be concerned about negative reviews on TripAdvisor or Yelp. Why? Because he may not know about these websites. Expedia? Lonely Planet? Maybe not those, either. Similarly, the woman working at a nearby hotel may not understand that you prefer to book a room online instead of calling her on the phone.

 

Moldova has so much to offer to foreign visitors: delicious food and wine, magnificent monasteries, beautiful countryside and travel options ranging from eco-tourism to adventure travel. Its hotels, restaurants and travel destinations are a bargain, and some offer warm and attentive service. Its people can be wonderfully gracious and generous, too. But it remains among the least-visited countries in Europe.

At a meeting several months ago, several of us serving as Peace Corps Volunteers here discussed whether we could do anything to help improve the situation.

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We knew we had no money to address big problems like Moldova’s poor roads. However, as Americans who have made lots of travel decisions ourselves and are familiar with Moldova’s charms and challenges, we decided we could contribute in another way: We could help the owners of hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations understand what we and others expect in terms of customer service and how we use the Internet when deciding where to spend our travel dollars, whether in Moldova or someplace else.

Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 7.53.16 PMSince that meeting, our group has been working with the Moldova Competitiveness Project of USAID and the leadership of ANTRIM, Moldova’s national inbound tourism association. After months of work and numerous drafts in both English and Romanian, we recently completed our project: an illustrated Romanian-language brochure for Moldovan businesses seeking to attract tourists from abroad. ANTRIM has posted the brochure online and will be sharing it with its members. USAID said it looks forward to supporting the project, too.

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If you don’t speak Romanian, here’s the brochure’s message in a nutshell: Customer service is critically important, so smile at your customers and take good care of them. Build a strong online presence and try to attract favorable reviews.

IMG_9213I recently put the final touches on the brochure with Natalia Țurcanu, the head of ANTRIM, who you see above with me in their lovely new tourism center in the heart of Chișinău. Located on the city’s main street, the center offers brochures, maps, advice and even virtual-reality tours, as you can see in the photo. USAID and others provided support for the center, which was launched with the big press conference where you see Natalia speaking in the photo below.

She hopes our brochure may lead to workshops or other training programs to help Moldova’s tourist operators get better at using the Internet and providing consistently great customer service. IMG_9218Our group is ready to assist if she wants her people to hear this directly from American travelers.

Our Peace Corps team included current volunteers Shannon Skelly and William Winter, and recently departed volunteers Chris Flowers, Lisa Gill, Stephen Gill, Jessica Randall and Denise Riegel. Natalia has been our invaluable partner at ANTRIM. Sergiu Botezatu, Natalia Curnic, Ana Efros and Diana Lazar provided assistance through USAID’s Moldova Competitiveness Project and Chemonics International Inc. At Peace Corps Moldova, Felicia Cenușă guided the final translation, Violeta Frimu-Patel was our program manager and Tracey Hébert-Seck provided support and encouragement as the country director.

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If you know anyone in Moldova who might benefit from the brochure, I hope you will share it with them. Be sure to smile when you ask.

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Armenia and Georgia

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Moldova wasn’t the only country I barely knew before joining the Peace Corps. I also was unfamiliar with Armenia and Georgia, which Champa and I visited this past week during her school’s fall break.

Guess what: They’re beautiful, fascinating, filled with surprises and much easier to visit than you might expect, especially if you’re an American whose idea of “foreign travel” is limited to typical (and expensive) destinations such as Paris or London. Many of us who grew up during the Cold War tended to equate the Soviet Union with Russia, but it included so much more than that.

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As you can see on the map, Armenia and Georgia are located on the other side of the Black Sea from Moldova. All three countries are small former Soviet states that declared their independence in 1991. They share many traditions, from Orthodox Christianity to cheese pastries, but Armenia and Georgia each have their own distinct identity. Both are more prosperous than Moldova, especially in their capitals, Yerevan and Tbilisi. IMG_8386Their histories range from Armenia’s genocide to Georgia’s famous son, Joseph Stalin. They are Caucasian in the original sense of that word, with the Caucasus Mountains and striking landscapes.

We flew from Moldova’s capital, Chișinău, via Kiev to Yerevan, where we spent our first full day visiting three friends serving in Peace Corps Amernia: Brent and Dee Beardsley and Karen Jean Hunt, all seen here with us. We then toured some of Armenia’s most famous sites, including the temples at Garni and Geghard, shown above, the cathedral and other treasures of Echmiadzin and the ruins at Zvartnots. We drove past countryside like you see below.

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Next we hired a car to drive us north across the Georgian border to Tbilisi, a trip of about six hours including stops at Lake Sevan, Dilijan and a nondescript roadside cafe that served some of the best barbecue we’ve ever eaten. We checked into an Airbnb, shown below, and immediately tried some of Georgia’s cuisine, including its khinkali dumplings that reminded us of Nepal’s momos. The next day we toured Tbilisi and the nearby sites of Jvari and Mtskheta, enjoying still more churches, a synagogue, outdoor markets and a cable car ride.

We loved Yerevan and Tbilisi. Both offer amazing sights, rich history, good hotels and restaurants, lively nightlife, friendly people and reasonable prices. We felt completely safe and had little trouble communicating; many people in both capitals speak at least some English.

During our tours, we met more tourists from Dubai and Abu Dhabi than the United States. That’s a shame. Americans are missing out on a great travel experience: two welcoming countries that are relatively easy to reach and require no visas. As I wrote previously about Transylvania in Romania, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys looking beyond the beaten path, consider visiting Armenia and Georgia — and Moldova! — before they are “discovered.”

I won’t tell anyone if you need to peek again at the map to be sure where they are.

My Two Homes

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On Monday, the library where I work in Ialoveni, Moldova unveiled an exhibit about North Carolina — the home state of “Domnul David” and “Doamna Champa.”

The exhibit features brochures about the Wright Brothers monument in Kitty Hawk, the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, the NASCAR museum in Charlotte and attractions across the Triangle. It also offers information about where to taste wine, go fishing or ride a hot-air balloon in North Carolina.

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Before we came to Moldova with the Peace Corps, I gathered these brochures at the North Carolina tourism office on Route 85, just south of the Virginia border. I brought them with me and now finally put them to good use. As I described in an earlier post, Champa and I have also shared souvenir postcards about Durham.

My library colleague, Doamna Stella, and her daughter did a great job of arranging the new exhibit, which is in the center of the library. It’s the latest example of the close ties between Moldova and Carolina du Nord, two places I’m proud to call home.