Julie, a regular traveler, planned a number of trips to Warsaw last year with the intention of spending her weekends there sightseeing, strolling around the city’s parks, and eating pierogi.
However, by the time the first trip’s scheduled departure date of June 2022 arrived, those close to her weren’t so sure she should be traveling.
The phrase “Warsaw’s fairly near to Ukraine, aren’t you worried?” was said by my mother and a few others, she recalls.
Not at all. She claims, “I had no hesitation.”
Julie, who wished to remain anonymous, has now traveled to Warsaw four times in the past six weeks and has grown to love the city.
She calls it “a fascinating site with so much history.”
“The Old Town was beautifully reconstructed after the war. It is a beautiful location with lovely parks and pleasant summer weather. Additionally, the locals are very amiable. I’m returning tomorrow since I don’t believe there are any real worries.
Sadly, not everyone who might travel shares her sentiments. In addition to having a shared border with Ukraine, Poland’s travel business has suffered greatly as a result of images of migrants crossing that border in the media.
Andrzej Gut-Mostowy, Poland’s deputy minister for sport and tourism, told the media at the end of March that cancellations from foreign tourists had increased by 30 to 40 percent. An inquiry for comment was not answered by his department.
Even in March, Polish flights were canceled by the European airline Jet2. They will resume in September, which is just too late for those on summer vacation.
Eastern Europe as a whole can be seen to be following this pattern. Bookings to Poland’s Krakow have fallen by 60% for summer 2022, according to tour company Last Night of Freedom, which organizes bachelor and bachelorette parties around Europe.
According to founder Matt Mavir, “I believe that when the invasion started, people were hearing about explosives close to the border, and now they have that image in their heads.”
“But you ought to disregard that. You would have far fewer concerns if you were to travel to Poland than if Russia began bombing NATO nations.”
People aren’t only avoiding places for their own safety. People claim they don’t want to visit a location where they believe there are many migrants and appear to be having fun.
There’s an awkward contrast when someone loses their home and you’re there wearing matching t-shirts and drinking beer.
The stereotype of unattractive visitors having fun while refugees look on, according to British Nicola Trup, who visited family in Warsaw in July, is just untrue.
“There didn’t seem to be as many foreign tourists as usual, but I did hear more Ukrainian spoken,” the traveler said. She does, however, point out that you couldn’t know if you didn’t speak Polish or Ukrainian.
Ukrainians have lived in Poland for a very long time since they are neighbors, according to her.
“There were numerous projects and organizations that distributed donations throughout March and April. At specific times of the day, you would witness lines of moms and children if you knew where they were. It was terrible, but it was also good to see that many places were pitching in. Furthermore, it’s not like it would spoil your vacation. Previously, the railroad stations served as centers for refugees, but that is no longer the case.
Mule responds to concerns about safety by saying, “If you think about it logically, there’s simply no risk.”
A Region-Wide Crisis
She claims that because Poland and Ukraine are neighbors, Ukrainians have resided there for a very long time.
Throughout March and April, a variety of initiatives and groups distributed donations. If you knew where they were, you would see lines of mothers with their children at particular times of the day. Although it was bad, it was encouraging to see how many places were contributing. Additionally, it’s not like it would ruin your trip. Previously, refugee facilities were located in the railroad stations, but that is no longer the case.
Mule says, “If you think about it logically, there’s just no risk,” in response to questions regarding safety.
And it’s not just Poland. According to Last Night of Freedom, bookings to Riga, Latvia, and Budapest, Hungary, have also decreased by 39 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
According to statistics from the Hungarian Tourism Agency, foreign visitors to the nation decreased by 37% in the first half of 2022 compared to 2019. Americans have decreased by 65%. It claims that numbers are increasing and expresses optimism for an annual decline of just 10%.
According to statistics from its tourist board for January to May, Slovakia, which borders western Ukraine, saw a 49% decrease in international visitors from 2018 to 2019. It’s difficult to estimate how many people avoided the area out of concern about the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine, according to a spokeswoman. The country’s capital, Bratislava, is located on the Austrian border, one hour from Vienna and sixteen hours from Kiev. However, the common boundary is sufficient to deter people.
Even nations without a border with Ukraine are being impacted by the crisis. Because they can no longer stop at the popular Baltic cruise destination, St. Petersburg, Liina Maria Lepik, director of the Estonian Tourist Board, claims that half of the 350 cruise ships slated to visit Tallinn in 2022 have been canceled “as a direct impact of the war.”
‘It Will Never Be Cheap’
Not all of the news is bad. Although the war has been cited as a factor in the cancellation of group travel, Lepik claims that the war’s direct effects on tourist statistics have not been observed. Despite the fact that they are still below pre-pandemic levels, she notes that “visitor numbers have been gradually improving every month.”
Not everybody is as fortunate. In January, Jacek Legendziewicz hoped that Jordan Group, a hotel chain with offices in Krakow, would emerge from the pandemic in 2022. However, after the invasion, they lost 80% of their group reservations in just three days.
The hotel was partially full as a result of the need to receive refugees from Ukraine, according to him.
But in order to work, we required regular tourists.
Even now, despite the fact that the numbers of tourists visiting Poland are rising, Legendziewicz, who also serves as the deputy director of the Maopolska province’s Chamber of Hotels, is still having issues. Foreign visitors are down 60%, with just his conference attendees remaining at normal levels, and visitor numbers from other countries are “very slowly growing.”
“Poland and Krakow are supposedly too close to conflict,” I keep hearing. “There never was, and there never will be as cheap as now,” will be his new catchphrase.
According to Matt Mavir “These localities are being harmed more by our absence than by the real fighting. If people could support [Poland] and travel there, it would also benefit south of the border.” His business will give Polish refugee charities 10% of the proceeds from every trip there.
The Regional Winners
It’s interesting to note that tourism is rising in two of the nearby nations. Moldova, which borders Ukraine, welcomed 36,100 non-resident tourists in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 31,000 in 2019 before the pandemic.
In contrast, Lithuania, which shares borders with Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, reports that as of June, tourist numbers were 88 percent higher than they were in 2019. In addition to Ukrainian refugees from the conflict, numbers from Latvia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are all rising.
Even Poland had a 20 percent gain in US visitors during the period of February to May 2022, despite a 25 percent decline in overall tourism. According to a representative for the Polish Tourist Board, Poland’s March decision to abolish the use of masks, isolation, and quarantine “should be taken into account.”
A ‘Geopolitical Zombie’
Despite Poland’s positive American stats, the entire picture is not so fantastic.
According to Wojtek Mania of the Pozna Tourism Organization, “the situation has grown highly dangerous and unpredictable.”
The fact that politics is influencing tourism, which brings people together, is really aggravating and infuriating.
Mania claims that “the influence of war is really intense” despite the fact that the city does not yet have 2022 statistics. Independent travel isn’t in as dire of a situation right now, but group travel has taken a severe hit.
Spain and the Scandinavian nations canceled reservations as soon as the invasion began, he claimed. Tour operators then cancelled visits “in pretty huge numbers” after the UK joined them.
People are “not considering the geography,” he claims, and are combining an entire region. He asserts that the conceptions of “Eastern Europe” and “Western Europe” are actually holdovers from the Soviet era and are so ingrained in the popular awareness that they are displacing basic geography and facts.
Since the Soviet Union’s demise more than 30 years ago, he says, “it’s like a geopolitical zombie that’s influencing industries like tourism in central-eastern Europe.”
“A entire area and continent have been impacted by the war that Russia began.”
Krakow, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Pozna, and Warsaw, for example, all hundreds of kilometers from the Ukrainian border, according to Dorota Wojciechowska, director of the Poland Tourism Board in London.
“Krakow and Kiev are separated by a distance comparable to that between London and Madrid.” She claims that individual British travelers are beginning to return.
Mania claims that the goal is to “accentuate telling people we are safe. that we are not at war, that we are not on the front lines, and that there are not large numbers of refugees camped out on historic town squares. On the streets, there is nothing happening.”
Tourism is founded on emotions, so it can be challenging to convince people to change their minds because they are experiencing these emotions.
Mulè adds that these locations are also stunning in and of themselves.
“One of the best times to go is in the late summer or early fall. Really nice and sunny, but not overly warm. Although prices are rising, if you’re paid in pounds or dollars, you’ll go out for a really good meal and laugh when the check arrives. There are mountains, seasides, and cities.”
Additionally, she advises visiting these nations as an excellent place to start if you’ve been considering what you can do to support Ukraine.
“Poland has welcomed countless numbers of refugees. The number of persons using Polish services has greatly increased. Therefore, the more you back Poland, the more you back Ukraine.
Mania concurs in Pozna.
“Our Ukrainian minority was sizable before the conflict, and it is now far larger. If you want to help refugees, visit Poland and look for Ukrainian restaurants or other places where they work. “That way, you can support tourism and refugees, trying to build their new lives,” the speaker advises.