|Photo by Freeimages.com/Sandor Horvath|
Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press, September 16, 2015
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia's hotel industry said Friday there's still plenty of room at the inn for Pope Francis' visit this month.
About 3,000 of the 11,200 rooms in the city's downtown were still available two weeks away from the pontiff's Sept. 26 arrival, said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.
Hotels were slashing rates, skipping minimum stay requirements and tossing in extras like subway tokens and bags full of Philadelphia-centric snacks to lure guests for the two-day visit.
"In some cases, it's actually more affordable now than during a large, citywide convention," Grose said. "It varies on what's going on in the city, but I can assure you the rates I'm seeing now are very competitive."
Four downtown hotels had rooms available for less than $300 per night as of Friday. Booking.com listed a room at the Marriott near City Hall for $195 per night, about $125 cheaper than in July when demand appeared higher.
Grose and Mayor Michael Nutter held a pep rally-style event in the lobby of a ritzy downtown Radisson to encourage people to stay at a hotel during the papal weekend. They were backed by about two-dozen hotel workers who held "Welcome Pope Francis" signs and waved Vatican flags.
Afterward, the mayor walked down a busy street, chatting up the papal visit with passersby and handing out buttons with the recently launched marketing slogan, "I'll Be There." Leaning into a stopped cab, he implored the driver: "Make sure you're there! Help people get to their hotel rooms!"
The glut of hotel rooms is the latest indicator that interest in the pope's visit may be far below organizers' expectations of 1 million people for Francis' Sept. 27 Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway - the last public event of his six-day, three-city U.S. tour.
SEPTA, the regional transit agency, said it sold just 60,000 passes for special commuter trains to the outdoor Mass - about 115,000 fewer than expected. About 1,100 buses have registered to bring people to papal events. Organizers had predicted 5,000 buses would sign up.
A plan this week to let people camp out in a city park during the pope's visit fizzled within 24 hours due to lack of interest. Residents have also reported trouble renting out rooms to would-be visitors on Airbnb and other home-sharing websites.
Nutter suggested some of the late hotel bookings would come from the people who snapped up the 30,000 tickets made available to the public last week for the pope's biggest Philadelphia events.
"I think you're going to see some late decision-making going on," Nutter said. "Folks are going to try to grab those rooms."
Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, the triennial Catholic conference attracting the pope to Philadelphia, said organizers based their crowd predictions on previous papal appearances. More than 900,000 people attended a Mass at the last World Meeting, in 2012 in Milan.
"It's never been a determining factor for us about success," Farrell said. "We always thought a million, million and a half. We still think that."
This article was written by Michael R. Sisak from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.