An increasingly popular option for enjoying a pleasant time is tourism in Romanian rural areas, which has progressively developed in recent years and, although affected by the pandemic, still has considerable development potential. In fact, the COVID-19 crisis is expected to equally have positive effects, including in areas such as this one, when stronger emphasis is placed on an environmentally friendly tourism economy.
The Recommendations on Tourism and Rural Development issued by the World Tourism Organization (WTO Recommendations) in September 2020, draw attention to the fact that the role of tourism in rural development is more relevant than ever and that tourism in rural areas offers important opportunities for recovery as tourists look for less populated destinations and open-air experiences and activities. But they equally point out to the fact that rural areas are much less prepared to deal with the direct and indirect impact of crisis and therefore it is of critical importance to support them in facing the economic and social effects of the pandemic.
1. Benefits of Rural Tourism
The promotion of rural tourism in a country like Romania can thus become a major incentive for economic development, given the huge potential in this area.
The development of tourism in rural areas is likely to ensure, among other things:
– a fair distribution of tourism benefits;
– creation of jobs, and preservation of family ties and of the local community, the more so as most of the time the members of the same family are involved in rural tourism activities;
– preservation of natural resources, traditions and cultural heritage;
– promotion of social inclusion and stimulation of traditionally disadvantaged groups, especially women and young people who have chosen to stay or return to rural areas.
2. Rural Gastronomic Points
In this context, it is worth mentioning of rural gastronomic points, which have formally been regulated since September 2019, at the initiative of civil society, and especially of the Ivan Patzaichin Association – Mila 23.
This new type of food unit was regulated under Order no. 106/2019 for the amendment and completion of the Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Norm regarding the procedure for veterinary sanitary and food safety registration of the activities for the acquisition and direct and / or retail sale of food products of animal or non-animal origin, as well as of the activities for the production, processing, storage, transport and marketing of food products of non-animal origin, approved under Order no. 111/2008 of the President of the National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority, (hereinafter referred to as the “Order¨).
According to the definition given in the Order, local gastronomic points include units represented by the private kitchens inside rural houses, where culinary products are prepared and served directly to the final consumer, according to recipes specific to the area.
The specific features that differentiate local gastronomic points from other types of units include, among others, the fact that:
– they can concurrently serve not more than 12 people, and
– the culinary products must be prepared from produce mainly obtained from the primary production of their own household/farm, as well as from local producers or from units authorized / registered for sanitary-veterinary and food safety purposes.
Thus, it is important to note that, regardless of the origin of the food – own household or other local producers, food served at a local gastronomic point must observe certain hygiene and food safety rules.
Conditions and Establishment. The Order provides for a simplified procedure for veterinary sanitary and food safety registration, i.e. registration of the unit in the lists of food retailers by the sanitary veterinary and food safety directorate of the county, Bucharest municipality respectively, , based on a written application filed by the beneficiary.
In order to set up a local gastronomic point, several conditions must be met, the most important of which are summarized below:
i. the unit must be legally established in the form of an individual service provider (PFA), family enterprise, individual enterprise or company according to Law 31/1990;
ii. it must be registered for sanitary veterinary and food safety purposes according to the Order;
iii. the food must be prepared and served only by the owner and / or his/her family members, and their health must be regularly checked.
Insofar as the form of organization is concerned, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the most appropriate form of organization would be the family enterprise regulated under Emergency Ordinance no. 44/2008, in light of its practical advantages (e.g., single-entry bookkeeping, without the need for an expert accountant).
To obtain the above-mentioned sanitary-veterinary registration, a first step is to file an application with the sanitary-veterinary and food safety directorate of the county, Bucharest municipality respectively, (containing minimum data such as: name and address of the unit, activity, places for the sale of products obtained in own unit, number of workers, etc.), accompanied by a number of documents, such as:
i. plan of the place where the production activities will be carried on,
ii. copy of the trade registry excerpt or, as the case may be, of the registration certificate issued by the trade registry office attached to the court in whose territorial area it operates,
iii. copy of the identity document of the economic operator’s legal representative,
iv. proof attesting that the tariffs established by the applicable legislation have been paid.
Prior to issuing the sanitary-veterinary and food safety registration document for the retail units activities, the competent sanitary-veterinary directorate will check the documentation submitted and will perform an on-site inspection, through veterinary inspectors / veterinaries to verify whether the specific hygiene requirements and those set forth in Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs, as amended, have been met.
In general, the premises used for foodstuff must be clean and maintained in a good state so as to avoid the risk of contamination, and must be equipped with suitable hygienic – sanitary and refrigeration facilities for the proper hygiene of the working environment and of the products used, and for maintaining and controlling an adequate food temperature.
Local gastronomic points represent an option worthy to be considered by rural and gastronomic tourism enthusiasts, who are keen on the authenticity of culinary experiences. Also noteworthy is the emergence of some forms of rural tourism promotion in Romania, such as the booking platform Localm.ro, which, in addition to the somewhat classical accommodation section (“Rest”) (“Odihna”) also includes the “Food” (“Bucate”) sections (including local gastronomy points – http://www.localm.ro/bucate) and “Customs” (“Obiceiuri”) (village traditions and activities).
Such food units also represent a chance for the sustainable development of the rural environment, as they are likely to contribute, inter alia, to the creation of jobs in rural areas, the maintenance of local communities’ cohesion and the preservation of culinary traditions.