Poland's Tourism Marketers Caught In Grip Of Uncertainty Over Nearby War

Skift Take

No doubt a huge challenge facing tourism marketers in Europe — the inability to predict the outcome or end of Russia’s war on Ukraine, as well as how to hit the right notes amid human loss and devastation close to home.

Lebawit Lily Girma

How does a destination tackle tourism messaging in major source markets when there’s a war raging next door? That’s the dilemma that the Poland Tourism Organization’s marketers are now facing ahead of what is anticipated to be its biggest international tourist summer since the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, Poland was experiencing a steady increase in visitors, attributed to joining the European Union in 2004. A record 35.7 million overnight tourists visited Poland in 2019, most of whom traveled from the U.K., Germany, Ukraine and the U.S., according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Tourism officials agree it is too early to predict how the war will evolve and thus impact travel to Poland. But they’re closely monitoring the situation, while sharing a message of safety, continuing to promote for the summer and remaining cautious and ready to pivot — just as they did when the pandemic hit.

The Polish Tourism Organization’s (PTO) UK office was first to issue a message of reassurance when the war broke out. ”I would like to assure travel agents and individuals that the country remains safe,” said Dorota Wojciechowska, director of Polish Tourism Organization in the U.K., in a press release, and that the hope is that “the ongoing horrible situation in Ukraine will not discourage British tourists from visiting Poland this year.” 

Wojciechowska told Skift in a statement that the Polish tourism office in London has been monitoring the Ukraine situation since day one and staying close to customer sentiment. 

“At the moment we don’t see any reasons to pause or dramatically change both our B2C and B2B communication,” said Wojciechowska. ‘We will continue running digital campaigns, posting across our social media platforms and organising a workshop for travel agents. We feel that we need to be proactive rather than passive with the message we want to release.”

Most British tourists visit Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk, cities that are all located far from the border crossing with Ukraine. With all the tourist attractions, hotels and restaurants are operating as usual, Wojciechowska said, there is no reason for people who have booked or who are planning to book their trip to Poland to change their plans.

Magdalena Zelazowska, director of Polish Tourism Organization in New York,  agreed that Poland’s infrastructure and all services have not been affected and that it is safe in-country. But she added that the situation is too new and uncertain to predict the next two months preceding the summer season.

“We are taking safety very seriously and this is the first thing we have to be clear, if it is safe to invite travelers to Poland,” said Zelazowska. “I would not advise to plan a trip right now — however in a couple of months, hopefully this situation will be fully managed and we will be ready.” 

Zelazowska added that she wasn’t discouraging travel to Poland, if not advising a wait and see approach over the next few weeks, which will also allow Poland’s hospitality industry time to adjust to the influx of Ukrainian refugees.

“This is something that we are focusing on right now — our hotels are taking refugees, they’re giving up space to provide accommodations, they’re also offering jobs so in terms of the travel sector, this is also a big challenge until the holidays for this situation.”

Poland’s tourism industry is focusing on managing that challenge rather than making big plans in terms of international tourism, because that’s the priority right now Zelazowska added.

Thinking Ahead

But of course, tourism marketing offices are thinking ahead. 

Both the U.K. and North American directors for Poland tourism said they would continue their marketing strategy as normal, including resuming press trips. 

The U.K. office’s Wojciechowska said that should the conflict’s impacts spread and impact its neighbors further, they will be ready to tackle it at that time.

“We are prepared to shift our marketing strategy in a similar way as to how we did back in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. We focused our campaigns on inspirational and educational aspects of Poland instead of pushing bookings.“

Like Poland, European Union destinations are closely analyzing the effects of the war on their respective travel industries. Wojciechowska said that another equally important aspect that will have a greater impact on people’s travel decisions is the increase in the cost of living in the UK.

For Zelazowska, there is light in the tunnel.

There’s the increased interest coming from media representatives in North America given Poland’s support to its Ukrainian neighbors. “This is something that we will definitely underline in our communication because this is something that is very much in our DNA, hospitality,” said Zelazowska.

Pandemic restrictions will also be lifted in Poland on April 1. 

“So this combined, just let’s give it a few more weeks, and this will be a totally different situation. But of course, acting as if nothing happens wouldn’t be very responsible. We are cautiously optimistic.”

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