Poland offers value for money, a warm welcome and a new experience for many North American travellers, says Magdalena Zelazowska, Director, Polish Tourism Organization, in this edition of Friday Five. And the PTO loves working with the trade, says Zelazowska. “We are very responsive, flexible and try to meet travel agents’ individual needs. Try us!”
1. How is the Canadian market performing to Poland these days?
“I am very happy to share the news that Poland has noted a 25% growth in the number of visitors from Canada in 2018 versus 2017. We are very excited about that and looking forward to welcoming even more guests in 2019.”
2. Central and Eastern Europe is extremely popular right now – why is that, and is Poland benefiting from this upswing, not just from Canada but overall?
“Central European countries are an alternative to Western Europe – a choice that more and more tourists find interesting. There are a number of reasons for that.
“Firstly, it’s value for money – prices in Poland are on average 50% lower than in Western Europe and we are able to provide the same standard of hotels or gastronomy. We are in the European Union but we have kept our own local currency and the exchange rate is in favor of tourists from Northern America. It’s an important decision-making factor for families, seniors or young people interested in budget travel destinations.
“Secondly, countries that first come to your mind when you think about visiting Europe – France, Italy or Spain – often suffer from overtourism. It’s impossible to enjoy a walk in the centre of Florence in the summer. Some places are not able to offer sufficient number of hotel rooms, others have introduced restrictions in the number of visitors allowed. This is not the case with Central or Eastern Europe.
“What is more, local people there are not tired with tourists. They are welcoming and warm, which personally I find very important as a traveller. And it’s not just my opinion: booking.com selected Poland among the friendliest destinations for 2019 exactly because of our hospitality. Furthermore, there is the issue of safety. Western Europe has been dealing with more and more cases of terrorism.
“Finally, countries like Poland are still undiscovered and fresh, especially for Americans. According to European Travel Commission’s research on the U.S. travel market (2018), only 6.5% of travellers to Europe are first time international travelers. The remaining 93.5% have travelled outside the country at least once, and now that the new currency amongst travellers is “experiences“ rather than “things”, the more off-the-beaten-track the destination is, the more it is valued by a certain segment of travelers.”
3. When travel agents think of Poland, they typically think of beautiful Krakow and visitor favourites like the Wieliczka Salt Mine. What do you want agents to know about Poland’s other must-sees, that maybe aren’t as well known?
“Warsaw and Krakow are the most recognizable cities in Poland and undoubtedly they are charming. But there is so much more!
“Among other interesting cities there is Wroclaw, awarded with the prestigious title of Best European Destination 2018. It has one of the biggest old town markets in Europe and over 300 bridges – very picturesque.
“Poznan, a great city with rich history and beautiful examples of historic architecture has been nominated for the same title this year, and Łódź was selected among top destinations to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet. Formerly the capital of Polish Industrial Revolution, today Łódź is burstling with creative energy of artists, filmmakers and free thinkers.
“We have 15 UNESCO sites in Poland, great national parks, a long coastline with wonderful sandy beaches, as well as some beautiful mountains. One of my favourite places is Lower Silesia and the valley of palaces and castles, most of them original and beautifully restored, some of them turned into great luxury spa hotels (but still affordable).”
4. What is it about Poland that appeals to Canadians in particular?
“I must admit I find it a challenge to promote a relatively small, distant country in a market like Canada, which is so vast and beautiful, with amazing nature. But I am convinced we still have a lot to offer.
“Most importantly, Poland has all of the traditional European heritage and culture that so many Canadian tourists appreciate. We have great examples of medieval or renaissance architecture, as well as world-class works of art. You don’t have to queue in the crowds to take a quick glimpse of Mona Lisa in the Louvre, come to Krakow instead and take your time while admiring our own Da Vinci – the Lady with an Ermine.
“Poland is also famous for its excellent cuisine. Our restaurants are fantastic and affordable, serving quality food prepared with natural ingredients. Polish chefs and cities win more and more international prizes and distinctions. Krakow for example has been selected for the Capital of Gastronomy Culture for 2019 – a title we are very proud of.
“Finally, there is a wide range of cultural events – festivals, Chopin’s music live concerts, theatre performances. Visitors from Northern America very much enjoy them.”
5. What sort of support and collateral and learning programs does the Polish Tourism Organization offer agents?
“Polish Tourism Organization supports travel agents in different ways. We attend numerous trade shows in the U.S. and Canada during which we run presentations or take part in 1:1 meetings, providing up-to-date information on tourists attractions, hotels, flight connections and other services.
“All year round we organize webinars for all those who cannot attend local shows. We invite tour operators and travel agents to take part in fam trips in different parts of Poland, focusing on different aspects, such as spa & wellness, medical tourism, food, adventure.
“We also run the poland.travel website which is a useful source of information, it also contains a trip planner.
“On a daily basis our office answers questions by phone and provides all sorts of printed materials like maps or brochures. Our convention bureau in Warsaw offers great support for the MICE industry.
“We are very responsive, flexible and try to meet travel agents’ individual needs. Try us!”