In 2016, the number of foreign tourists visiting Poland reached a record high. This is by no means the only evidence pointing to the growing importance that this sector has for the Polish economy. Could Poland become a tourist heaven?
The Ministry of Sport and Tourism published data showing that the number of foreigners visiting Poland in 2016 increased by 4.5% compared with 2015, which translates into around 17.5 million people. Combined with the growing popularity of holidays at home among Poles, this has produced a bonanza period for local hoteliers, restaurateurs, carriers and guides. Already last summer, the Polish Chamber of Tourism presented preliminary estimations according to which tourist traffic in Baltic Sea resorts had increased by about 20%, which is confirmed by the current studies.
Events with a global reach
The result was boosted by two international events in our country. First of all, Poland hosted World Youth Day in 2016. Guests arrived not only in Krakow, but also in many parishes across the country. The pilgrims came from a total of 187 countries. Its culminating point, a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Brzegi, brought together about 3 million faithful. WYD turned out to be a success in terms of organization and turnout, which later benefited the entire Malopolska Province, according to some data (e.g. the Polish Chamber of Tourism indicates that the traffic on tourist trails in the Pieniny Mountains grew by 30%).
Furthermore, in January 2016 Poland hosted the European Handball Championship, a record-breaking event in terms of spectator numbers (nearly 401,000). Of course this is not an event of the same magnitude as WYD or football tournaments, but handball is very popular in Europe’s richest countries. That is why tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of fans from European countries (the exact data is unfortunately not available) also boosted last year's figures. It should also be mentioned that match broadcasts attracted around 1.65 billion viewers worldwide, and so, as in the case of WYD, there was an additional promotional effect, which could affect the number of choosing to spend their holidays in Poland.
As safe as Poland
This season will not see such impetus for tourism growth, but the current momentum can be maintained. There is no reason to worry about the popularity of holidaying at home among Poles. For obvious reasons (Turkey, Egypt or Tunisia are no longer safe countries), Poles are more willing to vacation at home. In addition, the local tourist base and infrastructure are getting better every year. And experience shows that foreigners will also come in large numbers. Last year's jump was the third increase of interest in Poland as a travel destination. The first occurred after Poland joined the European Union, and the second one accompanied the Euro 2012 football tournament. Later the number of foreign tourists steadily increased until last year, marked by another clear jump. And so it turned out that those who have already visited Poland decided to return to our country or convinced their relatives or friends to visit us. Poland increasingly features in offerings from travel agencies worldwide. We are among the 20 most visited countries by tourists.
The Ministry of Sport and Tourism estimates that the share of tourism in Poland's GDP amounted to 5.6% in 2015. The share of tourism services sales in Poland’s total exports was about 6.1%. These figures are probably underestimated, since the transport and trade sectors also benefit from tourist traffic, which was covered by other statistics. Let us also remember that Poland’s tourism offering also includes a unique product, which is health tourism. In 2015 Polish sanatoria and treatments, cheaper than elsewhere, attracted almost 400,000 patients.
In what is a worldwide trend, services, including tourism, have an increasing share in GDP. Some countries, such as Egypt or Croatia, in fact depend on tourism. Poland is not one of them, because our economy is fairly balanced and has no predominant industry. The mentioned minimum 5.6% with an upward tendency is already an important part of our economy. This figure could be compared with the share of agriculture, construction or financial services in the Polish GDP.
What attracts tourists to Poland? As for Poles, everyone has their own motivation to spend holidays or shorter periods locally. Regardless of that, the price/quality ratio is undoubtedly an important decision factor. The fact that every year, an increasing number of Poles stay in Polish hotels, lodgings, camps and agritourism farms, proves that clients are ever more satisfied. Of course, this is coupled with typical tourist assets of our homeland. Poles simply like local nature and monuments and feel very connected to them. This is a kind of tourist patriotism.
As far as foreign visitors are concerned – no surprise, also here the price/quality ratio is decisive. For tourists from richer countries Poland is incredibly cheap. There is also the question of security - Poland is among the safest countries in Europe, and at the same time an increasingly modern and developed one. When analysing the main directions of tourists’ arrivals, one can easily note that still the highest number of visitors come to Polish cities (especially Krakow and Warsaw) and seaside resorts.
We would no doubt like to see a much higher interest in the things we are probably most proud of - our nature, forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes. However, according to the Ministry of Sport, the Podkarpackie and Podlaskie Provinces, which are most famous for this kind of tourism, recorded at least three times fewer tourists than the Masovian region.
Crossing rivers and mountains
There is still much to be done. We, as Polish clients, are familiar the unique value, on a European scale, of our wild rivers, forests and lakes, as well as our mountains, quite wild but at the same time offering well-marked trails and good tourist infrastructure. However, we still have not found a way to persuade more foreign tourists to visit them. Maybe promotion is insufficient? Because investment is not lacking for sure.
An active traveller is probably the best from our point of view. We cannot boast beautiful weather all year round. Most tourist traffic to Poland is concentrated in July and August, which is a major constraint for the industry.
Much is being said and done to enhance the innovativeness of Polish industry and other sectors of the economy. But we also need innovation in tourism that will help attract more and more active holidaymakers. This is a prerequisite for our tourism industry to reach a higher level, and for Poland to no longer be in the top twenty, but in the top ten of the most visited destinations.
Source: “Gazeta Polska Codziennie”