Poland sees mass tourist cancellations amid war in neighboring Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has had a big impact on overseas tourism to Poland, with hotels and travel agencies reporting mass cancellations and a collapse in new bookings. In response, the state tourism agency has sought to reassure international travelers that Poland remains a safe destination.

“In my office, 100% of arrivals have been cancelled; they’re not even postponing the visits,” Ernest Mirosław, head of a travel agency in Kraków that specializes in pilgrimage tourism, told Gazeta Wyborcza

He adds, however, that his troubles are nothing compared to “the fact that there are bombs falling on people in Ukraine”.

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Jacek Legendziewicz, deputy head of the Chamber of Hotels in Małopolska, the province in which Kraków is located, tells a similar story. After two years of the pandemic, “we were happy that there were [now] more and more reservations”. But “then the war changed everything”, he adds.

“We are receiving cancellations all the time, not only for upcoming bookings, but even for September and October,” Legendziewicz told Gazeta Wyborcza

He notes, however, that the loss of revenue has been partially compensated by the mass arrival of Ukrainians – over two million of whom have crossed into Poland since Russia’s invasion – with some finding accommodation in hotels. But their stays are often last minute, brief and unpredictable, he adds.

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Rafał Marek, head of the Kraków Chamber of Tourism, tells Gazeta Wyborcza that “business owners are terrified” about the future, with a particular reduction in bookings from the US, as well as the UK, Spain and France.

In Zakopane, a resort town in Poland’s southern Tatra mountains, there have also been mass cancellations since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Emilia Glista of Joint System, an agency that supports the local hotel industry, told Gazeta Krakowska

“This is especially true of foreign guests, who say directly that they are afraid of coming to Poland,” she explains. †Unfortunately this is also the effect of false media reports that distort the situation. We had questions from customers from abroad [such as] is it true that the army is on the streets.”

The Polish Tourist Organization (POT), a state body, has sought to ally such concerns by reassuring potential visitors that, although Poland has received large numbers of refugees, it is not directly threatened by the war and remains a safe destination.

The head of POT, Anna Salamończyk-Mochel, told Rzeczpospolita that for those more distant from the crisis – such as in the US – the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe is often perceived as a war zone. That has resulted in many American organizations canceling tourism industry workshops and study visits, she said.

The crisis for the industry has come just as it appeared to be set for post-pandemic recovery. In January this year – the month before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the number of nights spent in the country by foreign tourists rose to a combined 532,100, according to Statistics Poland (GUS), a state agency.

That was almost five times higher than the 113,800 recorded in the same month a year earlier, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP), though only half the figure of just over 1 million in January 2020.

In the whole of 2021, just over 2.5 million foreign tourists stayed in Poland, according to GUS. That was up from 2.26 million in 2020 but still only one third of the figure of 7.5 million in 2019.

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Before the pandemic, Kraków – a historic city that is Poland’s tourism capital – had seen visitor numbers constantly growing. In 2019, British consumer association Which? chose it as Europe’s best city break destination for the third year in a row. TripAdvisor named it as one of the top 10 “trending destinations” in the world for 2020.

But it subsequently saw tourism collapse, with visitor numbers dropping by almost half in 2020 and a particularly sharp decline in foreign arrivals. That costs the city and its businesses billions of zloty in revenue.

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However, the situation in Warsaw – which is more of a business than tourist destination – does not appear to be quite so bad. “We have not noticed an increase in the number of canceled bookings by foreign guests in recent days,” Dominika Kurowska from the marketing department at the city’s Marriott hotel, told Nasze Miasto.

“I would even say that in this respect it is getting better and better, the traffic in our hotel is increasing, mainly due to the end of the coronavirus pandemic and the easing of restrictions for travelers,” she added. “The situation is dynamic, but at the moment I can say that the situation in Ukraine does not deter our foreign visitors.”

Main image credit: Katarzyna Pracuch/Unsplash

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