Poland's daily Przeglad recently reported that less and less Polish tourists were interested in coming to visit Lithuania. This, according to the paper, might have to do with tensions that have been poisoning Lithuanian-Polish relations for the last several years over controversial national minority issues: education, name spelling, bilingual street signs, property restitution, etc.
Not interested in Lithuania
The daily quotes Waldemar Lawecki, director of Bezkresy tourism bureau, who says that this year, Poles are not setting off on their usual early-May trips to Lithuania.
On 1 May, Poles celebrate the Labour Day, while 3 May is the Constitution Day, commemorating the Constitution adopted by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1791. Both dates are bank holidays in Poland. Poles often take an extra day off to extend the holidays to a week-long vacation, often using the time to visit neighbouring countries.
We must attract the youth. The old guard is leaving soon, and that's that.
This year, however, Polish tourists are not as interested in spending the long weekend in Lithuania, Lawecki says. “Last year, I sent four full coaches and now there won't be even one,” the tourist agent laments.
Figures indicate growth
15min talked to several people, able to monitor Polish tourists' flows and their impressions here. They have shared varied insights. Some believe that Polish tourists' flow is drying up or, at best, remains the same, even though tourism in general is growing; others are convinced that Lithuania is no less interesting to Poles than before. Granted, most admit it is too early to draw firm conclusions one way or the other – the situation will be clearer after the early-May holidays.
Information provided by Vilnius Tourism Information Centre refutes Lawecki's words. Over the first three months of 2012, the Centre's departments were visited by 835 tourists from Poland. There were 634 last year and 491 in 2010. In other words, the number of Polish tourists increased by 41 percent last year and another 24 percent this year. Granted, the total number of tourists who dropped by at Information Centres grew even more (46 and 35 percent respectively). “We will see the true situation after the long weekend,” Jolanta Beniulienė, Vilnius Tourism Information Centre director, says.
She doubts whether tourists were much influenced by politics. Lithuania is a pilgrimage destination of sorts for many Poles. On the other hand, it might also mean that people feel compelled to come here once, but – unlike Turkish resorts or Paris – it is not a place they feel like revisiting.
Justinas Bortkevičius, incoming tourism manager at Visit Lithuania agency, also says that he has not felt any decrease in Polish tourists. Several groups are due to arrive in the coming weeks alone. He notes, however, that while hotels used to be fully-booked in early May, this year one can still easily find accommodation.
Off to Lvov
Businessman Vytenis Urba, who often visits fairs in Poland, says he has heard that more and more Polish tourists choose to go to Lvov in Ukraine. It is not only the recently-renovated historic town that attracts them, but also cheap cigarettes, alcohol, and food. Also sentiments.
Nostalgia draws Poles to Vilnius, too, and on their way, they visit Trakai, coastal resorts, the Hill of Crosses. The country, however, largely lacks any additional advantages.
Polish tourists' price policy is to try and get as much as possible for free.
Coming for a shopping spree is hardly sensible, as one can get things cheaper in Poland, and cheap accommodation is in short supply. That might be the reason why the bulk of Polish tourists in Lithuania are middle-aged and elderly people, while youngsters prefer other destinations.
An economizing tourist
All interviewees tell 15min that Polish tourists are keen on economizing, especially since the outset of the financial crisis. “A Polish tourist is a cost-conscious tourist, spending little on souvenirs, planning a tight trip budget,” Beniulienė says.
Bortkevičius agrees: “Their price policy is to try and get as much as possible for free. Their bargaining skills are such that what they do is getting themselves a good price, if not plain racketeering.”
Urba, who is one of the organizers of Vilnius' St. Casimir Fair, said that Poles came to this year's event in early March in full coaches. Hostels and low-end hotels were fully booked.
“We take part in fairs, we bring literature, advertise Vilnius as much as we can. Poles are always very welcoming, but one needs an extra something to get them hooked. We try to advertise, offer economy vacation – rural tourism perhaps – but that does not interest them either. We must attract the youth. The old guard is leaving soon, and that's that,” Urba warns.
Russians and Belorussians pay more
Tourist guide Albina Ramanauskienė, who lives in Lazdijai district close to the Polish border, disagrees that Polish tourists are turning away. “Poles, Germans are flocking in. We often go to Poland to shop and we see full double-deckers [coming to Lithuania]. Poles are going to Druskininkai, where people make a living out of Poles and Russians,” she told 15min.
Ričardas Malinauskas, mayor of Druskininkai, concurs, even though he agrees that the Polish flow has eased a little. But restaurants in the resort town still offer special Polish-flavoured programs complete with Polish food, music, and dance.
“I wouldn't say that hotels and spas are full, since there aren't too many guests yet. They come from different countries. Many from Poland, though there was some decrease. Can it be because of politics? Our companies, that have just returned from a tourism expo in Poland, said that there were many people who, after approaching the stand and learning it was from Druskininkai and Lithuania, would ask: Why don't you like us?” Malinauskas recounts.
According to him, Polish tourists indeed bring relatively little income. Russia and Belarus, on the other hand, supply wealthier tourists – and in increasing numbers too. Moreover, Russian and Belorussian tourists are usually more steady, they come with families and make less trouble. Whereas Polish youths are not always as benevolent and, according to the Druskininkai Mayor, are “prone to zbitki.”