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November 25, 2011

Warsaw: an optimistic outlook

Two decades after the Iron Curtain fell, Peter Bierwirth looks at hospitality in Warsaw ahead of major football championships

By Alexander Love

When EHMA held its first annual general meeting in St Petersburg earlier this year, we looked with amazement at the many fashionable and prestigious hotels on offer in the ‘Venice of the north’.

The surge in visits to cultural treasures like Budapest, Prague and even Bratislava was tremendous after the opening of the borders in the 1990s. In Poland, Kraków and Gdansk were the ones in the touristic limelight – capital Warsaw saw mainly political and culture tourists, and business travellers from abroad. With rising economic importance and success following EU membership, many new high-rise hotels were built in the Polish capital and almost all global hotel companies present in Europe have their brand represented in Warsaw.

" Occupancy in Warsaw’s hotels is high this year – 76% year-to-date – however rates are relatively low"

Nine of 11 four and five-star hotels are managed by global hotel companies (including Accor, Hilton, InterContinental, Marriott, Rezidor and Starwood) although most hotels (approximately 55%) are in the budget segment, approximately 18% are in the three to four-star range. The mid-scale market is dominated by local hotels and those of the Accor Group (Etap, Ibis, Mercure, Novotel), while three brands of the Louvre Group are also present: Golden Tulip (ex-Kyriad Prestige), Première Classe and Campanile.

Most successful local operator Syrena Hotels operates the four-star-plus Polonia Palace Hotel, the three-star MDM Hotel (both are part of Worldhotels) and the three-star Metropol Hotel. Most international hotels are brand new, of international standard and offer all amenities that the discerning traveller is used to. Besides some design hotels in the Old City (like the Mamaison Le Regina), there are two prestige Grand Hotels that were spared from total destruction during World War II: the famous Bristol (Meridien Hotel) next to the government buildings and the Polonia Palace Hotel.

Occupancy in Warsaw’s hotels is high this year – 76% year-to-date – however rates are relatively low: approximately zl300-400 (€75-100-equivalent) is the top average rate per room. The season starts generally in March and ends before Christmas – and winter can be tough.

Hotel employees are very friendly and eager to learn English – very often German is also spoken or understood. Professional training is a must as there are no apprenticeship systems or any renowned hotel schools. Finding and keeping well-trained staff can be a challenge for GMs who often come from abroad to widen their international experience.

What is really surprising for newcomers to Warsaw, is the refreshing, positive atmosphere and the numerous parks and sights in the city. Many young people flock to trendy restaurants and bars, while the newly built Museums for Chopin and Kopernikus attract thousands, only rivalled by the new football stadium that will open soon for the European Championship.

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