A new Polish government programme to provide families with vouchers subsiding domestic holidays has proved popular, with over 300,000 distributed since the scheme was launched three days ago.

From 1 August, families have been entitled to vouchers worth 500 zloty (€115) for each child (and double that amount for children with disabilities). They can be used to pay for accommodation and various other organised tourist activities in Poland until the end of March 2022.

The programme, which was proposed by conservative President Andrzej Duda during his successful recent re-election campaign and passed by parliament last month, is intended to provide support to families and boost the domestic tourism industry during the coronavirus crisis.

This afternoon, the state Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) announced that, over the first two days of the scheme, 319,000 vouchers worth 272 million zloty (€36.3 million) had been issued. Beneficiaries had already made 10,000 payments with the vouchers, with a total outlay of 8 million zloty.

Around 6.5 million children are eligible for the programme, which has a total budget of 4 billion zloty (€910 million), reports Polityka.

The government’s original plan had been for full-time workers earning less than the national average wage to each receive holiday vouchers worth 1,000 zloty. But eventually Duda’s plan to provide vouchers for every child, regardless of their family’s income, was adopted instead.

“This money will make life easier for Polish families and will go directly to the Polish tourism industry in these difficult times of crisis,” said the president while on the campaign trail in June.

The opposition-controlled Senate had sought to make seniors eligible for the vouchers too, but their proposal was rejected by the more powerful lower house of parliament, the Sejm, where the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has a majority.

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ZUS is responsible for overseeing the vouchers, which are issued in electronic form as 16-digit codes. In order to receive them, parents need to register. However, if they are already beneficiaries of Poland’s universal “500+” child-benefit programme, they only need to activate the voucher.

The vouchers, which are tax free, can be used to make multiple payments, until the amount of 500 zloty is reached. However, the money can only be spent at businesses or charities that have registered for the scheme.

As of this morning, over 10,000 had signed up, reported the Polish Tourism Organisation. A website has been created to allow people to search for venues that will accept the vouchers.

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The vouchers are not allowed to be exchanged for cash or other payment methods. However, since the launch of the programme, reports have already emerged of of people seeking to sell their codes online.

“I will sell a tourist voucher worth 500 zloty for 400,” reads one online advert reported by Gazeta.pl. But those trading in vouchers may face problems, writes the website, because the codes used when paying for accommodation are linked through ZUS’s system to the data of the intended recipients.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many Poles have opted to spend their summer holidays in Poland. However, the resultant crowded beaches and mountain trails have themselves raised concern that tourists could accelerate the spread of the virus.

Over the last week, the number of new infections in Poland has risen to its highest ever level, leading the government to this week announce the introduction of new safety measures.

Main image credit: Mariusz Cieszewski/PolandMFA/Flickr (under CC BY-NC 2.0)

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