Moldova hopes to pull in EU tourists after skies deal
Moldova is hoping to become the next Czech Republic or Latvia in terms of low-cost tourism after signing an aviation pact with the EU.
Its foreign minister, Iurie Leanca, told EUobserver in Brussels on Wednesday (27 June) that low-cost airlines Wizz Air and Blue Air have already shown interest in starting flights and that it will target Ryanair in the coming months.
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He said Chisinau has "quite intense nightlife" and could become a party capital on the model of Prague or Riga.
He also highlighted the country's wine industry and noted that Transniestria - a breakaway territory which has stood still since Soviet times - could be an attraction in itself.
"If somebody from Western Europe comes and travels there they will see some remnants of the former USSR and I am sure they will appreciate it. It's a curiosity," he said.
His remarks come after Moldova on Tuesday signed an open skies deal with the European Commission, opening its air sector to free competition.
Apart from bringing tourist revenue and helping Moldovan expats from Ireland or Italy to see their families, he said increased visits would help to put his country - which aspires to EU membership - on the map.
He noted that in Germany, for instance, where the Czech river Vltava is called the Moldau, "when people [first] hear about Moldova, they sometimes think it's a river in the Czech Republic."
With the boom in Western tourism to places such as Riga associated with rowdy stag parties and the sex industry, Leanca pointed out that Moldova cannot be choosy in terms of who to host.
"We are not spoiled [for choice] yet, so any decent tourists are welcome," he said.
The minister - who chairs the country's commission on human trafficking - added that it has made "improvements" in protecting women.
But he said so long as there is poverty in the countryside: "young people coming to the city will be tempted and sometimes abused ... We have to make sure that our law enforcement agencies work in a more systematic way."
He said the recent thaw in relations with Transniestria is helping to combat organised crime.
The territory late last year saw a young, locally-born politician, Yevgeny Shevchuk, take over from Russian-born Igor Smirnov.
Shevchuk has restarted international talks on Transniestria's status and is cultivating friendly ties with Chisinau - he has attended weddings with Moldova's Prime Minister Vlad Filat and went to a Julio Iglesias concert with Leanca in the Moldovan capital on 8 June.
"We have [also] resumed meetings of working groups on organised crime ... In the past people who committed a crime on the left bank [of the Dniester river] used to cross to the right bank to avoid punishment, or vice versa," the minister said.