January 31, 2013
Alex Kloszewski, president of the Warsaw Destination Alliance (WDA), and Tomasz Kułakowski, director of the Warsaw Tourism Organization (WOT), talk to Jolanta Wolska.
What are WOT’s major objectives and does it have a strategy?
: WOT was created as a joint venture organization starting with 17 members, including Warsaw’s cultural and artistic institutions, as well as public and private companies.
Its main role is to increase tourism and MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Events) business to Warsaw through integrated campaigns and international marketing activities. It is an information exchange platform to facilitate the implementation of promotional activities, such as discounts, joint entrance tickets, and distribution of promotional and advertising materials.
WOT is encouraging more companies and institutions to become members. What are the benefits of WOT membership?
: We organize joint promotions and networking opportunities, build bigger brand awareness for members, seek new markets and new customers, and help new companies enter the tourism industry in Warsaw. Growth in tourism means more profit and growth for businesses in the capital.
What has WOT achieved in the six months of its operations?
: Apart from doing self-promotion to become known among the stakeholders, we have been conducting a strong membership drive. One of our major new members is the National Stadium. It takes time to develop relationships and trust, especially for a new organization. We have the benefit that the City of Warsaw is one of our founding members and a major funding partner.
Now is the best time to join WOT as we are working on a promotion and marketing strategy for Warsaw, so members have the opportunity to have input into this process.
We have had our first success I feel, although it is not yet ratified. WOT and the WDA have been working on a local hotel occupancy tax, which will provide funds to promote Poland and Warsaw abroad. Many other countries have such a tax. We have drafted changes to the law so that this tax can be implemented. We have gone as far as we can, and with the help of parliamentary deputy Marcin Kierwiński, the draft has been accepted by the governing party and has been directed to a parliamentary committee before it can be voted upon. We expect the tax will become law in the first quarter of 2014. That will hugely influence our budget for all our planned objectives. It is expected that the tax will raise zl.52 million nationally and about zl.7 million for Warsaw. That will mean a tripling of the budget for tourism promotion.
How does WOT plan to promote Warsaw abroad?
: We do not plan to reinvent the wheel. We want to create good PR around decision makers and concentrate on priority countries; these are Britain, Germany, France and other major European destinations. An increase in the budget will mean that we will be able to conduct above-the-line promotions, such as advertising in the largest and most influential MICE media in Europe. This will also help us strengthen our PR activities significantly. I believe that, in order to bring conference business to Warsaw, it is important to establish close links with decision makers abroad. I feel it is not enough to only talk to foreign journalists and advertise.
: It is important to ensure that Poland and Warsaw are on the minds of major conference booking agents abroad. In most cases today, they will not propose Warsaw for a big pharmaceutical or medical conference. Instead you hear places such as Milan, Paris, Prague, Barcelona and so on. We want to persuade them to propose Warsaw. Even if we get 10 percent of conferences to come to Warsaw then we will have made huge inroads. I would like to see a major international convention in Warsaw every month.
: Generally, companies rotate their conferences every year within the same cities. As long as we have the product, it is natural that they will want to try something new, and Warsaw is such a city. Warsaw perhaps is not the most exciting place for incentive tourism within the MICE agenda, for which places like Las Vegas, exotic islands or a cruise are better suited. But Warsaw is ideal for conferences and conventions. We are a modern city with great food, great entertainment, fantastic nightlife, interesting places to visit, friendly people and lots of parks to enjoy as well.
We are working to be the first point of contact for organizers of big international events. And while not exclusively, WOT members will be first in the running to work with those events.
Why does WOT want to be the first place of contact for international conferences?
: We feel we can do it well and we have the support and the members to promote Warsaw in various markets abroad. In 2012 we had some 300,000 room nights in Warsaw from MICE business. Our aim is to double that over the next five years. To achieve that we have to have an excellent promotional effort and a close relationship with all the convention bureaux and a good partnership with all the hotels in Warsaw.
How hard is it to attract MICE business to Warsaw?
: At this point we have been concentrating on our membership drive. Although we have been participating in negotiations for a few large conferences, among them the biggest global conference planned for next year. It has been confirmed that the COP19 climatic conference will be held in Warsaw at the end of this year. It will be the second biggest event after the Euro 2012 soccer championships and is expected to attract some 15,000 to 20,000 delegates from around the world.
: WOT and the WDA will be responsible for accommodation bookings for all the delegates.
Why these two organizations?
: We want to ensure that the experience during Euro 2012 is not repeated, where some hotels charged outrageous and unacceptable prices. It gives Poland a bad name. We will be working very closely with the COP19 organizers in the Ministry of the Environment.
Can Warsaw accommodate large numbers of delegates?
: Generally yes, but it is more difficult when we talk about conferences and congresses of more than 10,000 delegates. Unfortunately, as yet we don’t have such a facility to accommodate huge numbers. One of the WDA’s and WOT’s missions is to help build a convention center next to the National Stadium. Today, that dream is closer to becoming a reality than ever before. The new management taking over the National Stadium I believe is in full support and committed to build this mega MICE city next to the stadium so that we’ll be able to compete with the biggest cities in Europe.
How are WOT and the WDA capitalizing on the Euro 2012 success?
: Good question. Everyone is trying to compare Euro 2012 with Barcelona after the Olympic Games, where tourism doubled from 1.5 million to over 3 million annually and that has been sustained. Today Barcelona is one of the most successful MICE cities in Europe. While we cannot fully match that—as we don’t have all of Barcelona’s elements, including the ability to accommodate at this point such a number of conference delegates—we expect to have about 400,000 tourists coming to Poland over the next three to four years thanks to the great and positive PR and image that we built during Euro 2012. But to maintain that image and momentum we need to invest a lot more. We need much more public-private investment to achieve success. We have the perfect opportunity to follow through when we increase the potential of the National Stadium area.