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The Warsaw Voice » Business » March 1, 2013
Business & Economy
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Diversity Draws Tourists
March 1, 2013   
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Deputy Sports and Tourism Minister Katarzyna Sobierajska talks to Andrzej Jonas and Andrzej Ratajczyk.

Tourism is one of the fastest-developing sectors of the global economy. Is this global trend also visible in Poland?
Last year, revenue from tourism in Poland totaled zl.70 billion, which represents roughly 5 percent of Poland’s GDP. This is a decent showing considering that the economic situation in Europe and elsewhere was not so good.

Which segment of Polish tourism is the most profitable?
From the point of view of public coffers, the most significant is inbound tourism and domestic tourism. In 2012, Poland was visited by more than 14.8 million foreign tourists. Moreover, around 30 million domestic tourist trips were recorded. These two segments generate the bulk of the revenue. Outbound tourism, on the other hand, is less significant for the Polish economy.

Which type of tourism is growing faster in Poland—inbound or domestic?
Lately, there has been a visible revival in inbound tourism. And we expect that it will continue to develop fast, whereas domestic tourism has been experiencing a decline, as the number of tourists as well as its share in the earnings of the tourism industry are decreasing. A model situation is when 60-70 percent of the revenue is from domestic tourism. Such is the case in Germany or France, for example. In Poland, spending by foreign tourists is nearly the same as revenue from domestic tourism, which is not a good situation.

Why are Polish people less interested in traveling around their own country these days?
There are two key reasons. The first is the declining purchasing power of the population in recent years. The second reason is the competitiveness of outbound tourism in terms of price.

What are the priorities of your ministry in the tourism sector? How should this sector develop in the future?
What we have prioritized for years is further development of inbound tourism and stimulation of domestic tourism. The development of tourism in Poland is defined in strategies adopted by the government. The last such strategy was adopted in 2008. The document is a landmark not only for the Ministry of Sports and Tourism and for institutions it supervises, such as the Polish Tourist Organization (POT), but also for the tourism sector as a whole as well as for regions; it indicates what priorities will be carried out in the years ahead.

What measures should be taken to support the development of tourism in Poland?
There is a wealth of options, from typical promotional campaigns to activities aimed at improving the tourism infrastructure and ensuring better access to individual regions and tourist destinations. The aim is to increase the number of air, rail and road connections for potential foreign tourists to reach Poland. Also needed are efforts to create friendly conditions for enterprises operating in the tourism sector.

Would you say that tour operators in Poland have good conditions for doing business?
We’ve been trying to make these as good as possible. I think that if the conditions of doing business for tour operators were bad, there wouldn’t be so many new businesses springing up in recent years. At the moment, over 3,000 tour operators and travel agents are registered nationwide. We should add to that businesses in the hotel industry, which is rapidly developing in Poland.
Is there enough capital for further investment projects on this market?
Tourism is not an industry with lots of capital, which is particularly true of travel agencies. It is also an industry with very low profit margins—of 2-3 percent. It is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises as well as family businesses. That is why tourism needs to undergo consolidation in order to be able to develop and remain competitive on the European market.

Just how interested are foreign companies in investing in the Polish tourism industry?
Investment by foreign businesses in Poland’s tourism sector has been insignificant. This explains why this sector is not shown in statistics as a separate item. Foreign capital can be found particularly in hotels—and it needs to be said that such investments are growing in number.

What about campaigns designed to promote Poland abroad as an attractive tourist destination? How would you rate these?
I think campaigns aiming to promote Poland in various countries have accomplished their goals, as evidenced by the growing number of foreign tourists coming to Poland. However, I can see a need to step up information activities aimed at domestic tourists. When it comes to the promotion of domestic tourism, individual regions or even specific tourist destinations have been heavily involved for several years. And these promotional campaigns are better every year. But there are still not enough efforts to stimulate domestic tourism.

What is the bottom line in tourism these days? Are beautiful sights enough for tourists, or is the standard of services also important?
Nowadays, tourists are well educated and so they tend to pay more attention to service standards and diversity. This is true of both foreign and domestic tourists. An interesting thing is that the standard of services offered in hotels in Poland is sometimes higher than those in Western hotels with a comparable number of stars. On the other hand, Polish tourists traveling abroad have become more demanding.

Does Poland have any particular tourist attractions that could be a stimulus for the development of inbound tourism?
Because of its geographical location Poland doesn’t have such climatic conditions as southern European countries, but it does stand out in terms of the diversity of landscape. There are sandy sea beaches, primeval forests and large lakes as well as high mountains in the country. This allows tour operators to come up with a diverse range of services. And this variety is a great asset. What also appeals to foreign tourists is our history and culture in the broad sense. Polish cities and cultural heritage—castles, palaces—are attractive for tourists. In terms of cultural tourism, there are plenty of specialized products on offer, such as those concerning the history of Jews or other minorities in Poland.

There is a type of tourism not connected with the climate, landscapes or monuments: business tourism. It’s estimated that foreign visitors coming to Poland on business spend three to four times more money than traditional tourists. How is Poland doing on the European market for large business events?
Every year, Poland improves its performance on ranking lists in terms of the market for business events, but we are still far behind the best in Europe. The lack of proper infrastructure is a barrier. There are still not enough high-class venues in Poland which could host pan-European and international MICE events (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions). For now, there is no modern convention center that could host a conference for over 10,000 participants in Poland.

Of course, the situation is better than five or 10 years ago. Lately, a beautiful large facility for the needs of major business events was opened within the grounds of the Poznań International Fair. There is the National Stadium in Warsaw, which I see as a venue capable of functioning as a conference center. A new congress center is being built in Cracow. One should also draw attention to the growing hotel market in Poland. Almost every new hotel is equipped with large conference facilities. This allows hoteliers to use their buildings all year round. When it comes to the state of infrastructure, medium-sized congresses and large conferences can be easily held in Poland now. We still have to wait before we are able to host the biggest events until a full-fledged modern congress center is built. It appears that we could take advantage of the public-private partnership formula while carrying out such projects.

The development of business tourism is one of our priorities. That’s why back in 2002 we established the Convention Bureau of Poland as part of POT; this is a specialized unit that deals with securing international congresses and conferences for Poland and helps other institutions that organize such events.

A modern congress center would be especially useful in Warsaw, which aspires to become the leading financial center in the region…
Absolutely. Now is a difficult time to start such projects, but I’m sure it will be possible to return to this initiative soon. As a resident of Warsaw, I’ve been watching the positive changes that have taken place in the city recently, in terms of infrastructure, for instance. The Euro 2012 soccer championship held last year had a great impact on that, as it speeded up some activities.

Has the campaign promoting Poland as the host of Euro 2012 produced the expected results?
The championship itself attracted over 650,000 foreign visitors, mainly soccer fans, who spent over zl.1 billion in Poland during the event. But this is not the only measurable benefit of Poland hosting the championship. A much more significant result of Euro 2012 is a substantial change in Poland’s image internationally. While preparing for the event, we saw huge interest in Poland among foreign journalists, which resulted in an unprecedented number of publications—not only on the event itself, but also on the Polish economy, history, culture and tourist attractions. Thanks to that, Poland has stopped being anonymous and has become an internationally respected country capable of organizing major events—not only sport events, but also cultural and business ones. I’m not sure Warsaw would’ve been selected to host this year’s COP 19 Climate Conference if it hadn’t been for the general praise it received for doing a good job hosting Euro 2012 and, earlier, for smoothly handling events related to Poland’s turn at the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Another big boon related to hosting Euro 2012 was that many infrastructure projects accelerated in the country. If it wasn’t for this event, we wouldn’t have many new roads, new or modernized airports and railway stations, let alone accommodation for visitors or sports facilities. In connection with this, various regions and towns attractive to tourists are now easier to access in terms of transportation. Thanks to this, we can think of developing inbound tourism. We expect that in the coming years, thanks to factors including the Euro 2012 effect, the number of foreign tourists will be increasing by at least 500,000 every year. We also hope that the improved infrastructure will spur the growth of domestic tourism.
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