The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » Monthly - November 3, 2015
Poland - Meetings Destination
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Finding a Distinct Identity
The Voice’s Juliusz Kłosowski speaks to Luc Gesvret, sales, distribution and marketing director for the Orbis Hotel Group, and the Accor hotel group’s pointman for Eastern Europe, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Do you think that the meetings industry can become as important a contributor to GDP in Poland as it is in France, Britain and the Netherlands?

Let’s take some iconic destinations in Europe, like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna or London. These are perceived as very fashionable, trendy and successful meetings destinations and make a huge contribution to their economies. Do Polish cities lack that kind of potential? What I see in Warsaw, Wrocław, Cracow or Poznań, for example, is that we do have great potential. The infrastructure, welcome facilities and overall quality of life in such cities are really good. The problem is that we are not communicating this fact outside Poland and hence we lack international recognition. Many Polish cities, I’m afraid, aren’t recognized much internationally. And this is the first thing that needs to be changed.

It’s often said that the Polish government and official institutions need to work more efficiently to promote the country. What’s your opinion about that?

I would not say it is the sole responsibility of the government or local authorities to work to achieve international recognition for a country or a city. There is a need for a leadership and trend setting, but I am certain that we should work together—the government with the business sector. The hospitality and meetings industry should actively follow a common line to assist the relevant institutions in the task of increasing the awareness of a city, for example. However, the most popular approach in marketing destinations today is to focus on a specific tourist product of a city, its brand, not just on awareness as such. You need to be able to show something very unique, special, about your city to be recognized as a new, attractive destination. So, Warsaw for example, should find its special message like Amsterdam did with its “I Amsterdam” marketing product.

How should Warsaw be promoted?

Warsaw is the capital of Poland and as such it should electrify or transmit a certain vibe to all other cities in the country, and to the outside world. The message should not just concentrate on its heritage, the Old Town, the excellent atmosphere or the many attractions you can admire here. The experience of visiting Warsaw is far more than this. The hospitality industry, restaurants and bars here are excellent and you can communicate in English everywhere. The city is full of energy, creativity, state-of-art architecture, development and movement, full of youth and modern art, including powerful street graffiti coexisting with old structures. It is a vibrant city, appealing to everyone. Warsaw is a positively powered mosaic of many elements combining the old with the new, tradition with rapid growth. And that’s what we should communicate to the outside world: whether you come here for shopping, a meeting, leisure or business, this city gives you a vibrant, unique experience, not available anywhere else. Of course, we need a very short message, putting all this together somehow to communicate a distinct, recognizable identity.

But how can Warsaw compete with destinations like Barcelona, Paris or Amsterdam? They became strong, highly recognizable brands a long time ago.

Yes, you are right: they are big, strong, long-established brands. If you think about Barcelona, you probably think of Gaudi and sunny weather. Paris is about art, good food, fashion and style. Warsaw still lacks this kind of set of associations. I think this is an advantage. It means there’s a lot of potential for excellent communication and, above all, a lot of space to adjust to contemporary trends and the expectations of the young generation.

What kind of tourist product should Warsaw focus on?

I don’t know how the Warsaw authorities would like the city to be perceived but, to me, a natural image would be that of the capital of a big country with a growing, healthy economy to promote it as a meetings, conference and congress destination. That would bring in its wake a lot of business, jobs, taxes and international recognition too.

Other cities in Poland have already built huge congress and conference centers. Cracow, Katowice, Poznań and Kielce, for instance. Doesn’t Warsaw badly need a huge multi-purpose facility of this kind? Or is it too late for Warsaw?

I am sure you know the answer. If we don’t have such a facility in Warsaw, what will happen? All that business and everything that accompanies the development of the meetings industry, including international recognition, will go to other European cities. If Warsaw wants to be perceived as a vibrant business destination, we need to be able to welcome not only small or medium-sized conferences and congresses, but also meetings grouping well over 5,000 participants. If not, the international competition will always be ahead of us and it will be very difficult to promote Warsaw as an attractive, dynamic business destination.

Let’s peer into the future and pretend that the main Polish cities already have defined tourist products and know how to promote them. But they face another problem: how to finance their advertising campaigns. Don’t we need new rules to enable local authorities to introduce a tourist fee to help finance such marketing efforts?

That’s a good idea, but only if certain conditions are met. If hoteliers are to collect, let’s say, one euro on behalf of the city authorities for every night spent by a visitor in a given city, we have to be absolutely sure that this money is used to support either the marketing of the local tourist product or the tourism infrastructure. It would be absolutely out of the question to use such a fee to finance other projects or spending needs in a city or region. This one euro has to bring a return to the hospitality business, like the levies that have long been collected in many big European destinations, including those we’ve already mentioned. Some of these base their powerful marketing budgets on income from such levies. I don’t see any reason not to introduce such a method in Poland as soon as we have a proper action plan to grow the inbound tourism business using such fees.