Bogdan Turek in Warsaw -
Poland is carving out a niche as the supermarket of Europe, offering lower prices of quality goods than its Western Europe as well as top-quality medical services such as cosmetic and dental surgery that are attracting an increasing number of foreign visitors.
According to the Polish Institute of Tourism, 58m foreigners came to Poland in 2010, a 9% increase over 2009, and a further 6% is predicted to arrive in 2011. The highest number came from Russia, followed by visitors from Germany, England, Ukraine and Belarus. Out of the total, only 12.4m came to do sightseeing, but together they spent €3.5bn. Ukrainians lead the list of average daily expenditures of foreign tourists in 2010, spending €166 daily. Belarussians were second with €139, Russians were third with €73 and Germans came in fourth with €66.
So what are all these people doing and spending their money on?
Teeth, face, body
One clue can be seen in the supermarkets in the port of Szczecin on the Baltic coast, which are chiefly crowded with Germans, as are the smaller cities along the western Polish border. Germans, Ukrainians, Czechs and Italians also frequent the shopping centers of Katowice, in the southwestern part of the country. "They come because products of high-quality brands, such as Versace, are sold at some 30% less than in their countries," explains Krzysztof Lopacinski, deputy CEO of the Institute of Tourism.
Guidebooks in Italy, Germany and even Israel encourage their readers to go to Poland for cheaper shopping for goods as well as services.
Medical tourism grew by 15% in 2010 over the previous year, and more than 300,000 of visitors got dental implants or decided to improve their looks with the help of cosmetic surgeons.
As many as 300,000 underwent heart, alimentary tract or orthopedic treatments in the spas. Out of the total, 260,000 were Italians. Kamala Kasprzak, an official of the Klodzko group of spas in southwestern Poland, says that Israelis especially have taken a liking to Polish spas. "In this area, the number grew by 100% against 2009," she says, without giving a total amount.
The cost of cosmetic surgery is about 30-40% lower than in Scandinavian countries or the UK. The low prices, combined with a level of quality equal to that in Western clinics, attracted 63-year-old Ann Olsen from the US. "I wasn't prepared to pay US prices for a chin lift, so I researched on the internet and came up with the names of three cosmetic surgeons in Warsaw who were highly recommended," she says. "The third candidate, Dr Artur Broma, turned out to be perfect - he offers a less-invasive procedure that produces no swelling or scars. The operation was painless and lasted 45 minutes, and I left the clinic after a couple hours. Several of my friends have commented that I look younger - but they don't know why."
In a telephone interview, Dr Broma says his foreign patients, which account for about 30% of his practice, chiefly come from England and Germany, and occasionally from Ukraine and Belarus. "It is not the price, but the quality of the surgery that attracts them," he says. "They find me on my website or [elsewhere on] the internet."
Most visitors coming for medical services are extremely well-informed about their options, and some can quote prices of dental services in various Polish cities. "Warsaw dentists are the most expensive," says Karol Dwernicki from Lvov. "They wanted me to pay PLN38,000 [€9,500] for implants in my lower denture. I traveled to Jelenia Gora (western Poland) and paid PLN16,000."
The prospects this year for all types of tourism are promising, reckons the Institute of Tourism's Lopacinski,. "The Polish presidency of the EU [which starts on July 1] will undoubtedly make Poland more popular and the number of tourists is expected to grow by 6%."
Poland has earmarked €30m for promotion of the country, the highest amount ever, and Adam Giersz, minister of sport and tourism, launched a promotional campaign for Poland on March 17 at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin under the slogan, "Move your imagination."
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