Kraków’s sustainable tourism policy that takes into account economic, social and environmental aspects – that is the long-term strategy adopted by the city, which aims to change its offer and rebuild the tourism market after the pandemic.

Kraków, as the largest beneficiary of foreign tourism in Poland, has suffered the most from the pandemic. Tourism is one of the key sectors of the city’s economy, playing a significant role in its development. This can be seen in its impact on budget revenue, the number of jobs generated, the percentage of GDP, and the process of building the city’s international brand.

Tourism in crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a drastic decline in tourist traffic in the city and a deep collapse of Kraków’s tourism economy. Suffice it to say that in the second quarter of 2020, only around 3000 foreign tourists visited Kraków, i.e. less than 1 percent of tourists than the year before. During the whole year, fewer than 8 million tourists visited the city, including only 675000 people from abroad (a year earlier it was over 14 million tourists, including 3.3 million foreign tourists). Tourism research shows that Kraków has lost almost PLN 4 billion due to the lack of tourists. No wonder then that the mood among local entrepreneurs running hotels, travel agencies and transport companies focused on serving foreigners is not the best. The same applies to industries organically connected with them: events, fairs and catering. Recent opinion polls give some hope, showing that almost half of Poles intend to go on vacation this year and prefer domestic holidays.

Go with the times

As the pandemic has hit global tourism, it is only a matter of time before tourists successfully return once the pandemic is overcome. This gives an opportunity to redefine its framework, focusing on sustainable and responsible tourism that serves the residents and the city’s development, as well as preparing mechanisms to respond to negative socio-economic phenomena that may be caused by excessive tourist traffic, such as touristification. In this vein, the Kraków City Council prepared a document setting out the city’s long-term tourism policy and directions for the reconstruction of tourism after the pandemic. The document “Kraków’s sustainable tourism policy for 2021-2028” defines the assumptions of the comprehensive policy of the city with regard to the tourism sector and takes it into account in the broad development policy. It also points to the need to respond to socio-economic phenomena occurring due to tourism and those resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

A place for everyone

Sustainable tourism is to consist in finding a compromise between the expectations of residents of Kraków, tourist entrepreneurs (also city residents) and tourists. Each of these groups, having different interests, should accept the possibility of giving up some of their own benefits in favour of the common values of the city. The pursuit of breaking records in the number of visitors, especially weekend and cheap entertainment seekers, should become a thing of the past. Its place is to be taken by sustainable planning of the development of the local economy, which is to bring long-term benefits to all these groups. However, in addition to the economic and social level, the environmental sphere will also be an element of concern and interest. Kraków is to actively shape the environment and build social awareness and activity preventing the devastation of the natural environment and cultural heritage.

With caution and respect

Among the many recommendations, attention should be paid to balancing the sharing economy and counteracting the effects of tourism hypertrophy, characterized by an excessive increase in the supply and arrivals of visitors, exceeding the permissible capacity thresholds and causing social conflicts. Kraków is to stimulate the emerging types of tourist services of the sharing economy, in particular involving residents in the provision of services to visitors, if they do not disturb sustainable development, and at the same time take care of their legality and control. The city will participate in the legislative process, both national and international, and cooperate with global booking portals in the area of knowledge exchange, promotion and respect for the identity of Kraków as a historical centre. The management of special areas and cultural parks is to prevent tourism gentrification. It is also important to actively manage the night-time economy, promote a cultural offer referring to the historical heritage of the city and its identity, and eliminate negative practices and associations related to Kraków as a place of cheap entertainment.The involvement of the business sector, e.g. programmes promoting responsible entrepreneurs, and an association of city users (including tourists) around the idea of “Respect Kraków” will help achieve this.

Cultural and modern

A plan to increase the integration of culture and creative industries into the tourism economy has also been proposed. Cultural events have the ability to transform cities, build their brand, go far beyond their material heritage, but often grow into their tissue, becoming an essential part of their heritage. Therefore, it is important from the point of view of Kraków to intensify activities for the implementation of unique events, such as exhibitions, festivals, prestigious concerts of national or international importance, and to ensure their cyclical nature. It will be important to involve creative industries and non-tourism services, as well as to increase the activity of municipal institutions (e.g. the Krakow Festival Office) in the tourism economy. It is also necessary to create digital tools enabling the widespread use of commercial offers of cultural institutions and events. All these activities are to fit in with the long-term goal of Kraków, which is to be a modern and modernly managed creative metropolis that uses its cultural potential; a city that develops a knowledge-based economy and is habitable at the same time.