The Middle East, especially the GCC, is considered an important market for tourism in Poland, the newly elected President of Polish Tourism Organisation, Rafał Szlachta, says, and this perception might be soon reinforced. "Before the pandemic outbreak passengers could choose direct flights from Dubai to Warsaw and Kraków and from Beirut to Warsaw. We hope to see their number grow in the immediate future.
"Poland is still getting to know the specific character of guests hailing from the GCC, but the quality of its offer and services continues to grow year-on-year. Tourists hailing from the Gulf countries are remarkably pleasant, peaceful and do not cause any trouble. In addition, the fact that they know how to appreciate the services of their hosts always makes them welcome."
Until November 29 Poland is available exclusively for business trips. Accommodation facilities will not provide services for leisure travellers. Restaurants are restricted to takeaway and delivery only. "However, I hope that in December, Poland’s tourism sector will slowly begin its recovery and inbound leisure travel limitations will be lifted," adds Szlachta, who, until January 2020, held the position of Director of Department of Tourism in ministries in charge of economy. Tourism is a crucial sector for the Polish economy, as demonstrated by both its GDP contribution (exceeding 6 per cent in recent years) and generated employment opportunities - more than 700,000 jobs so far. It simulates the development of many other industries, such as construction, transport and agriculture.
"Tourists from the Middle East are particularly fond of Polish cities with a rich tradition, history, food offer and entertainment, such as Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk and Wrocław"
– Rafał Szlachta
"At the moment, we do not have detailed data showing the pandemic’s impact on tourism. Poland’s state budget has diverse revenue sources, with tourism as a significant but not main component. As a result, the Polish government manages to keep the economy stable and resilient in face of the pandemic," adds Szlachta.
"Support for the tourism industry is essential both from the viewpoint of the interest of the entire country and of particular businesses and individuals. Compared with other sectors, the distinct character of tourism makes it relatively easy to educate future professionals, also recruited from people remaining outside the labour force for a longer period of time," says Szlachta.
"Tourists from the Middle East are particularly fond of Polish cities with a rich tradition, history, food offer and entertainment, such as Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk and Wrocław. They are also attracted to our nature and moderate climate, with Zakopane currently reigning supreme as the number one spot. Located in southern Poland, a two-hour-drive from Kraków, the relatively small town is the winter capital of the country and offers unrivalled mountain scenery in the summertime. In addition, its offer is perfectly adjusted to the needs of Gulf guests.
"Our goal today is to promote other equally interesting sites in Poland. For example, the Masurian Lake District is within a two-hour car drive or train ride from Warsaw and offers relaxation and tranquillity away from the capital’s hustle and bustle.
"Not far from Kraków you will find two other sites popular among visitors from the region. I am talking here about the historical Wieliczka Salt Mine, included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and Mt. Kasprowy Wierch, one of the highest peaks of Tatra Mts. At 1,987 metres above sea level, there is nothing extraordinary about finding it covered in snow in May."
Moreover, adds Szlachta, guests that have already become familiar with the Polish offer of medical tourism come back to take advantage of diagnostic tests, cardiovascular treatments, cardiac surgery, orthopaedic treatments, weight loss surgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation, ophthalmic and dental treatments, as well as the wide range of spa and wellness services in scenic surroundings.
Poland is a low-risk destination that is accessible via direct flights from Dubai and since May 2015, UAE nationals can travel visa-free to Poland and the whole Schengen area.
An unabridged version of the interview is available online
By Rashi Sen