Poland’s restrictions-hit areas seek help to revive tourism

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Authorities in Poland’s eastern regions bordering Belarus appealed to the government Friday to help them revive the key tourism sector hobbled by access restrictions following a migrant crisis.

The center of the appeal was Bialowieza, a popular tourist venue touted as Europe’s last pristine forest that hosts bison, moose, wildcat and many other animal species.

Tourism-related businesses in the area say they’re suffering and temporary government assistance isn’t enough. They urged the government to issue subsidized coupons to draw tourists back to the area.

“From the point of view of business the situation is tragic,” said Marek Czerny of the Bialowieski Hotel. “in July we have only 10% of rooms booked, while a year ago it was 60%.”

Friday marked the lifting of a seven-month ban on general access to areas within 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Belarus border.

The ban prevented everyone except local residents from entering the area where thousands of migrants are pushed by Belarus into Poland, according to Polish authorities. Poland has said the plan was to destabilize the region and the EU.

Eugeniusz Lawreniuk, deputy head of the local “Bialowieza Forest Region” tourist group said nothing has changed and invited tourists to discover the region for themselves.

Poland has in recent months built a metal barrier along part of the border with Belarus to curb migrant arrivals. Local organizations say the wall has had a negative impact on tourism, although they grudgingly accept it.