Planning on attending COP24 in Poland this December? Then prepare for inflated accommodation prices and daily commutes to the venue of potentially two hours or more each way.
The 2018 UN climate summit will be held Katowice, deep in the heart of Polish coal country, from Dec. 3-14, with thousands of delegates expected to make the trip.
This year under a ‘facilitative dialogue’, countries will for the first time take stock of their collective progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals, as well as provide an update on the preparation of their NDCs and finalise frameworks for various elements of the treaty, including the market-based Article 6.
As a result, attendance at COP24 could be higher than the roughly 11,500 negotiators, policymakers, researchers, journalists, and campaigners who travelled to Bonn, Germany for COP23, potentially rivalling the 15,000 who were in the French capital for the landmark 2015 summit.
The Polish environment ministry said it expects up to 40,000 visitors to the city for the conference and adjacent events.
But with a population of around 300,000, Katowice is the smallest city yet to host the annual talks, translating into a shortage of nearby accommodations and potentially forcing some attendees to stay as far away as Krakow, which is 80 km (50 miles) to the southeast and more than two hours by train.
To dull the pain of a lengthy daily trip to and from Katowice’s International Congress Centre, the Polish environment ministry said free public transport will be provided for all COP participants.
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The dearth of rooms in and around Katowice has led the government to take a more hands-on approach to managing the accommodation situation this year compared to previous COPs it has hosted, again partnering with Warsaw-based tour operator Mazurkas, which helped organise the 2013 summit in the Polish capital.
According to the UNFCCC, the Polish government has reserved 15,400 rooms within commuting distance of Katowice for COP24 participants – the vast majority available in the region. This includes all rooms at Katowice’s two 5-star hotels, which have likely been reserved for country leaders, ministers, and other government officials.
However, only 3,200 or roughly a fifth of the blocked-out rooms are either within 20 km of the city centre or at “good hotels” up to 35 km away, a UN official told Carbon Pulse.
A further 2,200 are in a 21-35 km radius from central Katowice, another 5,000 between 36-80 km away, and the final 5,000 more than 80 km away, in or around Krakow.
And with more than 4,000 of these rooms now booked up, including more than 90% of those closest to the venue, it leaves few options for prospective attendees who will want to stay nearby but thought it unnecessary to book accommodations at least 7-8 months in advance.
All of these reserved rooms must be pre-booked through Mazurkas, which has set up a COP24 booking website that doesn’t actually allow users to make online reservations for most of the hotels listed.
The portal also doesn’t appear to be regularly updated, saying that all hotels still have vacancies despite Mazurkas telling Carbon Pulse that nearly all in Katowice are now fully booked.
Most bookings must be made by phone or email, in a protracted process that can take several days.
According to Mazurkas, the few remaining rooms in Katowice – often in short-stay apartments rather than hotels – start at €220-310 ($270-380) per person per night and require a minimum 12-night booking – not ideal for cost-conscious organisations or conference-goers only seeking to attend for a week or less.
The single room rates are also exponentially higher than those just a month earlier, when according to price comparison websites a night at a top hotel in Katowice costs around €35-80.
Some observers and regulars on the COP circuit said it’s normal for nearby hotels to jack up their prices when the UN circus comes to town, though a few voiced concerns that in this case it was being facilitated by the Polish government pre-agreeing prices and terms with hotel operators and then blocking out virtually every room in town.
“In terms of complaints that hotel rates being far above normal, the government has asked hotels to stay within a reasonable range, but they have no legal authority to obligate private hotels to comply,” the UN official said.
“In our opinion, prices are on a good level, taking into consideration organising a conference for such a large number of participants. Prices for standard rooms start from €75 for a 2-star hotel,” the Polish environment ministry added.
However, Carbon Pulse wasn’t offered anything of the sort by Mazurkas, which claimed that the cheapest possible option within 10 km of the venue was an apartment 3.2 km away with a double bed and a pull-out sofa for €225 per person, per night for a minimum of 8 nights.
What’s more, all of these bookings must be fully pre-paid through Mazurkas, which said it offers “no possibility of any cancellations”.
“Apparently, in negotiating with hotels, many would only agree to be part of the booking service if they could have confirmed and pre-paid options,” the UN official added.
TRY YOUR LUCK
If you’re a COP enthusiast looking to try your luck outside of the Mazurkas reservation system and on the price comparison sites, you may find more availability in the city centre, though prices are similarly inflated with a single bed in a 6-person apartment dormitory costing over €100 a night, or a double room in a hostel setting you back almost €5,000 for the entire two-week conference.
On websites like Hotels.com and Booking.com, accommodations outside of the city in towns like Bedzin and Bytom are also more affordable, though according to Polish timetables, in many cases trains to Katowice’s peripheries only run once every 1-2 hours.
“We pledge to engage with the government of Poland to see if we can find a resolution to this situation,” a UNFCCC spokesman said.
Until then, the accommodation squeeze will likely further irritate those who oppose the idea of the annual UN climate summit being held in a major European coal-producing region and being hosted for the third time in just over a decade by a government that regularly seeks to dismantle or water down EU climate regulations.
Delegates meet next week in Bonn for the first of two intersessional rounds of negotiations ahead of COP24 in December.