The Warsaw Network
Discovering Poland, or the tourist boom on the Vistula
13.07.2018

The Polish economy is growing at a rate of almost 5% per annum, and in this respect, it is second only to Ireland in Europe. Tourism in Poland is developing even faster – almost twice as fast. Everything seems to indicate that 2018 will be another record year in terms of the number of foreign tourists – approximately 19 million will come to Poland, counting all those who buy at least one night’s accommodation. As many as a quarter of them will be Germans. This year will also be record-breaking in terms of revenues that Poland will obtain from tourism – approximately EUR 16 billion.

 

These aren’t any impressive figures. Impressive, however, are their dynamics. According to the consulting company Christie & Co, the number of tourists making use of hotels increased by 86% between 2007 and 2016. The hotel base grew by over 80%. Poland still has much to catch up with and isn’t as attractive a tourist destination as countries of Western or Southern Europe. Two world wars almost completely annihilated the goods of material culture. The communists finished the work of destruction, allowing hundreds of palaces and manor houses taken away from their owners, which were scattered throughout the villages, turning some of them even to the warehouses to store fertiliser or animal fodder.

Comparatively poor compared to other countries is also the tourist base and infrastructure. Tourism couldn’t have been a priority for those families and society coming out of the poverty inherited from communism. To begin with, much more urgent needs had to be met. A significant increase in the wealth of the society only allowed the release of the potential that lies in domestic tourism itself. Only since a few years ago, millions of families can afford holiday trips.

Tourism in Poland is full of paradoxes. In high season in many Polish resorts, the occupancy rate of hotels is even higher than in Barcelona or Paris. This, of course, is not only the effect of their popularity, but to a large extent the consequence of a scarce base. Another issue is the shortage of employees. Insufficient numbers of waiters, bartenders, house cleaners, and even lifeguards. However, all this is testament to the great tourism development potential in Poland.

Another paradox is how high the prices are. Demanding tourists will find the highest standard for high “western” prices. On the other hand, less picky people will spend time at a fraction of the cost they’d have to pay in most developed European countries. The British, for whom Kraków has become their favourite weekend destination, have been enjoying this situation for years. There has even been sociological and cultural research into the “invasions of Britons from the lower middle class” on the former 1000-year-old capital of Poland.

The next paradox is the wildness and civilisation of Poland. In search of a pristine, timeless nature, one doesn’t have to go on a long and dangerous journey. There are places in Poland that one won’t find in orderly and built-up Europe. This is the case of the northern and eastern Polish waterways or in the Białowieża Forest, which is the only remnant of forests stretching across the European Lowlands from the Ardennes almost to the Urals. This is also the case with the gigantic swamps stretching over 100 km along the river Biebrza. Similarly, in Bieszczady mountains in south-eastern Poland, no civilisation is to be seen all the way to the horizon, and yet at the same time, there is no problem to get there and find the right base.

These places have always been attractive to “specialised” tourists. They would come to hunt in Bieszczady or Białowieża Forest. Thousands of bird lovers have always been attracted to the swamps on the Biebrza. The Dutch love this place in particular. Nowadays, tourism in these places is becoming more massive in its scale, but the crowds that travel across the West or South of Europe are still nowhere to be found there.

Tourist specialisation in a way is also the Polish specialisation. Rich tourists from the West or the countries of the Persian Gulf come especially for treatments and rehabilitation in Polish spas and resorts.

One of the things that attracts tourists to Poland is also a sense of security. It actually is the only country in Europe where no attacks or terrorist attacks have been recorded. Regardless of how one evaluates the Union’s immigration policy, it can’t really be argued that the Greek islands, the south of Italy or Spain are directly affected by the influx of newcomers. Terrorism itself devastates the sense of security, and this is not subject to objective measures. Objectively speaking, one can speak about the losses incurred by the European Union due to terrorism. According to an American think tank and consulting company RAND Corporation, in 2004-2016 they amounted to EUR 180 billion. Countries such as Spain, Italy, France and the United Kingdom are affected most. Each of these countries has lost over EUR 40 billion each. Part of it is obviously caused by losses in tourism. Compared to these countries and to the whole of the EU in general, Poland proves an exception to the rule. Here, according to RAND Corporation, the losses amounted to only EUR 19 million, or approximately EUR 0.5 per capita. This may not translate directly into the number of hotels in Poland, but certainly does into this sector’s investment potential.

Author: Dariusz Matuszak