We were asked to perform a simple task: visit the city for two days, and then report to an audience of local travel-industry professionals on what kind of problems a first-time visitor to Tbilisi might face.
In brief, we discovered that foreign visitors to Tbilisi face three immediate problems: (i) finding decent, up-to-date visitor information; (ii) navigating a city where every street sign, bus stop, metro station etc. is written only in Georgia’s impenetrable alphabet; (iii) crossing the street in a place where city-centre traffic lights are few and far between and where drivers are as indisciplined as Bucharest’s, only at far greater speed.
Why did Tbilisi City Hall ask us to carry out such a task?
Certainly not because we have all the answers to a city’s questions – far from it – but simply because the company we represent when we are not wasting our time here at Bucharest Life has a half-decent track record of publishing visitor information in cities not unlike Tbilisi.
Anyway, on the plane on the way home (a plane which departed achingly early: this is another problem Tbilisi faces. Most flights to and from Tbilisi depart or arrive at Silly O’Clock. Our flight from Munich landed at 03.05, the return flight took off at 04:00) we got to wondering about how the question ‘How prepared is Tbilisi to welcome foreign visitors?‘ would be answered were it applied to Bucharest?
Firstly, we should point out that we are probably not the best people in the world to answer that question. Though we publish that most handy of all the city’s visitor guides, Bucharest In Your Pocket, we have been here an awfully long time and are both jaundiced and chippy when it comes to the city.
So we would value input from others on this one: especially from those who are new to the city or who have visited just once or twice.
Our own early thoughts, for what they are worth, are as follows:
First, the things Bucharest does well from a visitor’s point of view.
- There are plenty of places to stay, for all budgets.
- Street-signage is now excellent (even if the fact that the design of them was copied direct from Paris is an embarrassment). Signage on public transport (especially the metro) has also improved of late.
- Taxis are cheap and rogue drivers are few and far between these days.
- There are plenty of print city guides (although we should point out that ours is by far and away the best), which makes up for the lack of a proper Tourist Information Office.
This brings us to the potential problems a visitor might face.
- Bucharest still lacks a decent, central Tourist Information Office. One is about to open in the Piata Universitatii underpass, but it remains to be seen what it will be offering in terms of information, how the staff will treat visitors, and whether they will add value to the visitor experience. We have our doubts.
- Bucharest could use a few more classic tour guides: people who will take visitors around the city centre (on foot – not in a bus or a black Mercedes) and who will enhance with local knowledge what the visitor can see for him or herself.
- The handouts and flyers produced by Bucharest’s attractions (especially its museums) need to be vastly improved. Some places offer nothing. In our experience visitors to good museums are prepared to part with cash for a decent printed guide. An opportunity is being lost here.
These are not definitive lists, and as we say, we welcome the thoughts of those new to Bucharest, or less frequent visitors who face the problems we do not:
But what do others without a copy of Bucharest In Your Pocket to hand do?