University of Bucharest, Rumania
Abstract: The coronavirus pandemic is one of the events of the 21st century that has disturbed our entire economic, social, cultural life, etc. Its impact on the tourism industry has been massive: 63% of experts from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO, 2021) believe that the sector will not fully recover by 2024. This global crisis in which travel, tourism, hospitality and events have been frozen in many parts of the world can change the tourism industry and the contexts in which it operates and creates new opportunities for promotion and development (Higgins-Desbioles 2020; Sharma, Thomas, & Paul 2021). According to research on pandemic tourism (Buckley 2021; Georgilas, Tsitsoni, Andreopoulou, Tsakaldiki & Kostopoulou 2021; Mazilu & Drăguleasa 2021; Enache 2021) at a micro level, a local trend has been highlighted, according to which the pandemic was a factor in the development of the Romanian ecotourism business because the restrictive measures affected more the mass tourism and less the ecotourism. This research aims to identify the factors that contributed to the development of the ecotourism business during the pandemic and to highlight the role of virtual communities in the brand-consumer relationship in ecotourism in Romania. In order to understand how the pandemic affect Romanian ecotourism businesses; what the role of virtual communities in the brand-consumer relationship was and how the promotion of online services contributed to the growth of ecotourism businesses during the pandemic, we used a quantitative research method, by applying a questionnaire to ecotourism entrepreneurs from different regions of Romania. The question guide addressed topics about the characteristics of businesses in the field of ecotourism; the main difficulties encountered in launching, maintaining and developing the project; the additional safety measures adopted during the pandemic; the promotion channels used; the existence or non-existence of a brand-consumer relationship; the interaction of ecotourism entrepreneurs with virtual communities.
Keywords: ecotourism, pandemic, virtual communities, social media, brand-consumer relationship, Romania.
Rhetoric and Communications Journal, issue 53, October 2022