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Poland's summer of economic discontent

There's breathing space on Poland's beaches, but that's a bad thing.

Girl sunbathers
Spectators enjoy the sunshine on Aug. 25, 2009 in Poznan, Poland. With a harder economy, fewer people are taking vacation trips to the beach. (John Gichigi/Getty Images)

WLADYSLAWOWO, Poland — The beach in Wladyslawowo, one of Poland’s premier seaside destinations, is so packed with baking Poles that it is difficult to take a step without standing on someone — but to regular beach-goers, the view is actually pretty dismal, in large part because of the economic crisis.

“I can see empty spaces on the beach — on a normal year it would be even more packed,” said Aleksander Andrzejewski, who runs the Solmare guesthouse just steps from the beach.

The economic crisis is keeping Poles closer to home, with travel agencies reporting a fall in interest in foreign holidays thanks in large measure to the recent gyrations of the zloty caused by the Greek meltdown.

Although the zloty has shown signs of strength in the last weeks, earlier it had dropped sharply against the dollar, the currency in which trips to popular destinations like Turkey and Egypt are priced.

In-country holidays have also taken a bit of a beating thanks to floods earlier this year that devastated parts of southern Poland, popular with tourists. The economy is also casting a pall, despite the summer heat wave that cooked most of central Europe.

“Although the weather is great, I can tell that the economy is having an impact,” Andrzejewski said. “Instead of staying a week, people are coming for three or four days, and when they call, they haggle over the price; that never used to happen. They are afraid of staying too long and losing their jobs.”

Poland’s government Tourism Institute finds that domestic tourist trips fell by 12 percent in 2009 compared with the same period in 2008, and that the length of holidays shrank. The number of foreign trips fell by 17 percent. The institute does not expect the statistics to return to pre-crisis levels for several years. The number of foreign tourists coming to Poland also dropped by 8 percent in 2009.


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Andrzejewski’s gloomy view of the beach scene shows that the global economic crisis has not spared Poland, despite it being the only European Union country not to fall into recession last year.

This year the economy is expected to grow by more than 3 percent, probably the fastest pace in the EU; but bad news from the rest of the continent, and an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent, has made many Poles reluctant to open their wallets.

Increased caution is also being seen in the government, which last year spent most of its time patting itself on the back for Poland’s narrow escape from the recession that affected the rest of the developed world.

Now, together with most of the rest of Europe, Poland is staring at rising budget deficits (estimated at about 7 percent of GDP this year), and a public debt that is creeping ever closer to 55 percent of GDP, a level at which Polish law mandates spending cuts to begin bringing the budget back into balance.