Enchanting Kraków

8 June 2020

We talk to Prof. Jacek Majchrowski, Mayor of the City of Kraków, about how local residents can rediscover their city at the time of the pandemic.

Karnet: What’s the aim of the campaign “Become a Visitor in Your Own City. Explore Kraków”?
Jacek Majchrowski: We want the programme to support the entire tourist sector. The industry provides employment for around 10% of all working Cracovians. It includes guide services, all museums and cultural institutions as well as restaurants, pubs and cafés, commerce, transport… All these spheres were hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and they need clear guidance from city authorities: you are essential, we haven’t forgotten you, we will support you. We previously ran the “Pause” programme providing employers with a range of concessions such as tax or rent relief. The “Resistant Culture” programme has helped organisers of events which had been either postponed or moved entirely online to survive until they can start thinking about resuming full activities. However, we were fully aware that these activities were not enough and that the situation required more extensive support.

What made you think so?
First of all, any financial support is limited by what the city has available, and the pandemic brought in a whole host of other problems. And of course nothing can replace enthusiasm and engagement. Hundreds of thousands of Cracovians who’d been stuck at home for two months are bound to miss everything they associate with living their lives to the full… And this stirs frustration and anxiety about financial survival, as well as major social and mental issues. The programme “Become a Visitor in Your Own City” is aimed at businesses by providing them with communication support and showcasing the strength and competence of the sector, and at local residents by showing them how they can step away from their daily problems and discover the city anew.

So what does Kraków have to offer? How and why should I feel like a tourist in my own city?
First of all, let’s remember that the pandemic hasn’t made Kraków any less beautiful or unique. Can any of us say, hand on heart, that we know the city inside-out? Kraków isn’t just the Old Town and Kazimierz, both included on UNESCO’s first World Heritage Sites List. It’s also Nowa Huta, increasingly popular with tourists, it’s Podgórze coming to life in front of our very eyes, it’s the charming Salwator and Tyniec… Kraków is a city of myriad green spaces, parks, nature reserves, spectacular mounds and riverside boulevards… And I could keep counting: the more we explore Kraków, the more secrets it reveals to us. So our idea is to take a fresh look at everything – to be as enchanted by Kraków as tourists who see it for the first time. There’s plenty to choose from: visit the city’s museums, follow one of the curated thematic walks, have lunch or ice cream somewhere new, buy bread from one of the many independent bakeries…

Not all Cracovians think the word “tourist” has positive connotations. Whether rightly or wrongly, the tourist industry is associated with gentrification, rising prices, a sense of insecurity…
We chose the name of the programme quite consciously. We need to create new associations. This time shows clearly that locals and tourists need one another. When we travel, we don’t do it just for monuments and museums – we also do it to meet new people, because they create the city’s unique atmosphere, and that’s certainly something Kraków is world-famous for. An absence of tourists makes a city stagnant – if you remember the summers of 2002 and 2003 and the Main Market Square almost entirely empty in the middle of the tourist season, you know what I mean. And today we are once again seeing a stagnation in the gastronomic and commercial sectors, in museums and cultural institutions. It seems obvious that we have to find the right balance, and perhaps this reopening after the pandemic is the perfect opportunity. We want to invite tourists who want to explore our heritage with full respect for our city and its residents. And we can only achieve this by supporting activities and industries which make the tourist sector the highest quality it can be.

Is the foundation of the cultural park one such activity?
It’s impossible to demand that others respect Kraków if we don’t respect it ourselves. I think one of our greatest achievements was organising the space of the Old Town and introducing clear regulations on using it. The foundation of the ICE Kraków Congress Centre instantly transformed Kraków into one of Europe’s leading centres of the meetings industry and it had a major impact on the development of infrastructure – as was the creation of TAURON Arena Kraków. Last year, Kraków was crowned European Capital of Gastronomic Culture – something which would have been utterly unthinkable just twenty years ago. In the spiritual sphere, Kraków is Poland’s first European Capital of Culture and UNESCO City of Literature, supporting authors and the publishing industry through municipal programmes and strategies. As Mayor of the City of Kraków, I am President of the Organization of World Heritage Cities. We are proud of our traditions, and it’s no surprise that Poland’s first entry to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List was Kraków’s tradition of nativity-scene making. Our city hosts myriad world-famous festivals bringing together great stars of their fields. All this is testament of Kraków’s potential to attract visitors interested in more than the usual tourist traps. So our message to “become tourists” is as positive and encouraging as it can be.

How do we get involved?
The campaign is unique in that we are welcoming everyone: businesses and enterprises, non-governmental organisations, institutions, tourist guides, activists, individuals… I hope they use the campaign to promote activities and knowledge they want to share with others. We have already prepared an impressive collection of activities. Walks, events, meetings, workshops and promotions all serve as perfect opportunities to explore the city, talk to interesting people and learn new things. All this while remembering all the safety precautions, although we will be gradually introducing new elements of the campaign as distancing rules become more relaxed. A great example is our drive-through cinema – the first large-scale cultural event held in the city while sticking to all rules was enthusiastically received. Many of the attractions included in the campaign are already available to individuals, families and small groups.

What about tourists who are slowly starting to return to Kraków? Is the campaign also for them?
Very much so! Everyone is most welcome to explore everything Kraków has to offer. The idea is supposed to work both ways: we want all visitors to feel at home here. The campaign “Become a Visitor in Your Own City” will be accompanied by the programme “Kraków: Undiscovered”, aimed at tourists. We hope they will look at Kraków as their home and explore at their own pace. They will find many beaten paths – Kraków is always full of new arrivals, including thousands of students at the city’s many universities and of course expats who have made Kraków their temporary or permanent home. The fresh energy they bring to the city is priceless – Kraków knows full well how much it owes its history to arrivals from all corners of the globe, and we continue to strive to ensure they feel at home.

Interviewed by Grzegorz Słącz

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