Last week we went on vacation to Bran and stayed at our usual spot, Club Vila Bran. One of the things I love about the place is that you can sit on the terrace and have a glimpse at Bran Castle. As I was sipping my latte and planned the next blog post, it dawned on me that my subject is right in front of me. What better lesson in marketing than Bran?
Bran offers a valuable insight into how a fictional character can turn into a branding landmark for a country and it can revive an entire area. With so many tourists visiting, you wouldn’t expect the roads to be in such poor conditions. Yet they are, so you have to drive carefully if you want your car to still be in one piece at the end of the trip.
The village is equally divided between homes & tourist accommodations, and the nearer you get to the castle, the more languages mingle. I feel like laughing every time I hear someone speaking enthusiastically about Dracula and wish I could also see their face after they visit the castle. The truth is that the entire region lives through tourism, and it has adapted accordingly. The authorities haven’t moved one finger, but smart people are taking advantage of what is known as Dracula tourism.
There are 2 connections between Bran Castle and the story of Dracula. One is through Bram Stoker’s novel where he depicted the fortress without actually having seen it. The other happened thanks to a group of American tourists who begged their guide to show them Dracula’s castle. Since there was no such thing, the first idea that crossed his mind was bring them to Bran. Everyone was happy and the “pilgrimage” was born. Coincidentally or not, Bran Castle holds the 1st place in American tourists’ positive associations with Romania, and 4th place for international tourists.
Let’s talk about fiction and truth first. The place gained its fame after being identified as Count Dracula’s abode described in Bram Stoker’s novel. Count Dracula is often overlapped, intentionally or not, with Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Wallachia. What enthusiastic tourists conveniently don’t know is that Stoker avoided to tie his characters to real people. The count is entirely a product of his imagination. On the other hand, Vlad, the real person, spent at most a couple of months at Bran Castle, according to the most recent historical evidence.
The gothic castle is on top of a small hill, near a pass in the mountains. The dense woods surrounding the valley create a picturesque landscape, and there is absolutely nothing spooky about it. Well, except for the street market full of tasteless knick knacks near the entry. The castle looks much better from the outside than on the inside. The visitors are mostly people from Western Europe and the US who come to learn about Dracula. Instead, they are offered a tour with long explanations and historical truths which bore them.
In spite of the most recent renovations and improvement efforts, the place is still overcrowded, full of replica furniture and poorly costumed people. What attracts tourists is the legend, and the cobbled stone, the narrow passages and staircases contribute to it. There are no howling wolves however, unless someone plays an audio, nor are there any bats. The area is actually very quiet and peaceful, and many are disappointed because they can’t distinguish between fiction and reality.
Last year Airbnb organized a competition where a couple won a sleepover in the castle. The event included a carriage ride, it was hosted by one of the descendants of Bram Stoker, a self-proclaimed vampire expert, and it culminated with going to sleep in velvet trimmed coffins. That’s a little extreme, but the lengths someone would go for promoting their business depend. For a few years now, Halloween tours and parties have been organized here, all in partnership with important sponsors. Apart from mass tourism, private events held here increase the fame and probably pave the way for the idea of an exclusive accommodation.
“At present, it makes a tidy profit, but in the right hands it has the potential to generate far more revenue than we could ever imagine.” Mark Meyer
When you leave the castle, you simply can’t escape the vampire paraphernalia at the gates. It has everything you can’t imagine, from plastic vampire teeth dripping blood to witch masks to purple, blue or green puppies whose eyes lit. Those are more scary than the whole vampire myth. There are also a lot of so-called traditional products, all imported from China. A few hundred meters away, there are a couple of small shops where you can find authentic Romanian products, handmade by the locals.
Like I said earlier, the valley thrives with the help of tourism. There is an abundance of B&Bs, but the best place for accommodation is by far Club Vila Bran, which offers plenty of entertainment. The restaurant is open for visitors if you want to try traditional food, for all the rest you have to be a guest. The locals are very friendly and helpful, and they are famous for the smoked cheese they make.
Image from here