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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » June 29, 2012
Destination Warsaw
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A Productive Decade
June 29, 2012   
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The Warsaw Destination Alliance is marking its 10 years this month. Alex Kloszewski, the WDA president, and Nicholas Robinson, membership manager, talk to Jolanta Wolska.

Alex Kloszewski, a Polish American who came to Warsaw in 2001, decided to make the most of Warsaw’s potential and promote the capital as an exciting place for meetings and conferences. In 2002, together with several major hotels in Warsaw, he formed what today is an influential organization within the hotel, tourism and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events) industry.

The founding members of the Warsaw Destination Alliance (WDA) came up with a concept and strategy to promote Warsaw as a tourism and conference destination and then set about implementing these. Kloszewski had run a similar project in the United States in the 1990s.

How did you structure the WDA?
Alex Kloszewski: We came up with the idea that all members would pay an annual membership fee and also that the major hotels would introduce a voluntary levy on hotel guests. We had to devise this scheme as there is no tourism tax in Poland and we had grand plans for promoting the industry. Within two years we had over 200 organizations and companies as members and a huge awareness in the capital about our mission. More importantly, our initiatives started to take effect. Additionally, we had established several working committees, such as marketing, communication, PR, clubbing, food and beverage, and transportation, and began to lobby the government to do the right thing.

What were the WDA’s first major successes?
AK: We came up with the idea to do the first-ever television spot announcing Warsaw as a product. We had two television campaigns, one on the BBC and the other on CNN.

Nicholas Robinson: The CNN.com campaign turned Warsaw’s image around. That campaign promoted the Beethoven Festival and subsequently hits on our website went up by 200 percent. It showed everyone that if you promote something well it will bring results. Also, following Poland’s entry into the EU, the BBC had a party in one of the major hotels here to announce the Warsaw campaign on their station. That really brought our organization and what we were trying to achieve into the media spotlight.

AK: The local media was amazed that a new and relatively small organization managed to create worldwide exposure for Warsaw in such a short time. Of course, the questions many were asking was why wasn’t the City of Warsaw doing something like that and how was it that a few hotels could get together and promote Warsaw globally. After that we were invited to do joint activities with the Promotion Office of the City of Warsaw. We had several meetings with successive mayors of the capital. In fact, four years ago Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the current mayor of Warsaw, for the first time contributed $350,000 towards a BBC campaign. The mayor also supported us in our plan three years ago to establish the Warsaw Tourism Organization (WOT). MP Andrzej Halicki said on national television that the WDA is the most proactive small organization that effectively and systematically promotes the capital. Councilor Maria Szreder is also very supportive of our work.

What are some of your other successes and milestones?
AK: We were instrumental in getting people all around Poland to realize that promotion and marketing of a city is not a cost but an investment. Soon other Polish cities started to imitate our marketing approach. We signed a strategic partnership with the City of Warsaw to promote the capital. For five years in a row we held an annual gala celebrating the industry, at which we granted the Chef of the Year and the Hotel of the Year awards and so on. We had great partners and sponsors for this event.

We have supported various festivals and special events, and we brought the Berlin Bears to Warsaw a few years ago. We had art shows in all the hotel lobbies; we lit up the Palace of Culture and Science during the Christmas season; we had supported the first Jazz Festival in the Old Town and the concept of poetry in the metro.

We held several conferences, two of which were held jointly with the BBC, two with Euro 2012, three with the Polish-British Chamber of Commerce and another with the American Chamber of Commerce. In the last five years we were instrumental in selling 30,000 conferencing room nights for the city. That is quite a spectacular result, which the Convention Bureau had not been able to achieve in 10 years.

NR: The WDA was a catalyst that brought different institutions together. We only had one mission: the promotion of Warsaw and to get all stakeholders to understand that it is in their interest to promote a positive image of the city.

AK: We have a very good working relationship with the Polish Tourism Organization (POT), the Convention Bureau Poland and the Promotions and Marketing Office of the City of Warsaw. Our organization is always very transparent.

We achieved our aim to become a public-private partnership (PPP) with the City of Warsaw. We were instrumental in getting WOT off the ground, of which the WDA is a founding member. We have a cooperation agreement between the WDA and WOT to ensure that all its members combine their efforts to promote the City more effectively and work on developing a brand for Warsaw. Warsaw still does not have a properly thought-out brand image, but I am confident that with our combined strength under the WOT umbrella we will develop something exciting.

Apart from a brand for Warsaw, what else does the WDA and WOT want to achieve?
AK: Ten years ago we said that we wanted to convince the city to introduce a tourism or occupancy tax in hotels, which could be used to invest in promoting the city. Thousands of cities in the world have it in hundreds of countries. America has a $10 arrival tax for foreigners. We have cities in Poland such as Cracow and Wrocław that actually charge zl.1.66 per night’s stay which they invest in promotions. The problem is that this is a “climate” tax that can only be applied in regions that have a lot of greenery, mountains or the sea. It doesn’t cover cities like the capital of Poland. We are working with the Ministry of Sport and Tourism to revise the law so that such a tax can be collected from hotel guests in all Polish cities. In today’s terms, this tax would provide about 3 million euros annually for investment in the promotion of Warsaw. In the meantime, we convinced the City of Warsaw to contribute nearly zl.1 million annually to WOT, which will go towards promoting hotels and the MICE sector.

How will the WDA function without members, who will have moved to WOT?
AK: The WDA is a foundation so we do not have to have members. But even a foundation needs funds, and we have negotiated a contract with WOT that guarantees the WDA 20 percent of the membership fees paid to WOT by hotels. That will help to maintain our offices, staff, website, etc. I work in an honorary capacity. This contract also ensures that the WDA has a say on the WOT board to ensure that that organization spends money well.

What changes in Warsaw have you witnessed over the last 10 years?
AK: The city has seen dynamic development in many ways. We have Expo XXI, MT Polska, and six hotels had been built in that time—InterContinental, Hyatt, Hilton, Radisson, Westin, and La Regina. That is half a billion euros in hotel investment alone. There were upgrades of many other hotels, including the Novotel, Mercure Grand, Sofitel, etc. We have two new bridges, the Polish Olympic Committee Building, the Copernicus Science Center, the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a new Fryderyk Chopin Museum and the National Museum has just been refurbished. We have two new stadiums. And on top of that we have a number of new malls—Galeria Mokotów, Arkadia, Blue City and Złote Tarasy. Warsaw has reinvented itself.
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