Madrid, Jan 19 (EFE).- Poland’s tourism sector took a backseat when millions of Ukrainians fled across the border following Russia’s invasion in February last year.
In the country’s eastern regions, hotels and guesthouses were repurposed to first host refugees seeking shelter and then to accommodate the NGOs and media outlets that flocked to the area.
“It was very dynamic, very fluctuating. In the beginning it was bad, because we didn’t know what was going on,” Anna Brzechowska, director of the regional tourism board for Podkarpackie, a mountainous region in Poland’s southeast, told Efe.
“Even tourists from Poland were a bit anxious so they were canceling their reservations. But then with time, maybe it’s a bit sad, but people got a bit used to the situation.”
Poland has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than any other European Union country, with over 1.5 million being granted temporary protected status.
It has also served as a crossing point for those who would eventually move on to other EU nations or return to Ukraine. Since the outbreak of war, just over 9 million crossings from Ukraine to Poland have been recorded, with 6.8 million registered in the opposite direction, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
“There was a short period in March and April, when the hotels and guest houses were focusing on refugees, they were helping out, but then people got used to it and we saw an influx of tourists as well,” Anna added during an interview at the Fitur tourism fair taking place in Madrid.
Poland’s border area has strong links with Ukraine. Before the war, Polish tourists would often visit Lviv in western Ukraine for its nightlife, relatively cheap prices and high standard of hotels while Ukrainians would visit the likes of Rzeszow, the regional capital of Podkarpackie, according to Kamil Czyz, the head of the department of the city brand, economic cooperation and tourism in Rzeszow.
“Earlier we had a lot of tourists from Ukraine, especially people who came to the city to simply go shopping. These are like combined packages, you go shopping and you stay in a hotel and you see some of the sights” he said.
“But right now there are no tourists. There are still some people who have money and come to Rzeszow but it’s hard to distinguish between refugees and tourists.”
The tourist infrastructure in Rzeszow has adapted to the new demands brought about by the war, he added.
“Because we are very close to the border, unlike Krakow or any other city, we have a lot of people in our hotels. Our restaurants are very happy because they sell a big number of steaks to American soldiers,” he joked, adding that hotels “are pretty full” due to the influx of “soldiers, diplomats, media and all the international organizations.”
Poland has not been spared the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine, however, and the increased cost of living afflicting much of Europe is palpable.
Tourism board director Brzechowska said the issues raised by the refugee crisis had given way to new economic challenges.
“What we know from the companies that work in the tourism sector in Podkarpackie is that tourists come, they book hotels and guest houses, however they spend less on attractions, on eating out, things like that,” she said.
“What I learned from Covid and from that crisis with the war is that we need to be very flexible,” Brzechowska added. EFE