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Pope’s beatification draws fewer tourists than expected

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Stacey Vanek Smith: This weekend in Rome, Pope John Paul II will officially become Saint. For Rome’s tourist industry, big Vatican events like these usually draw in millions of people and dollars. Usually.

Megan Williams has more.

Megan Williams: It’s the usual spring rush at Rome’s oldest tour operator, Corrani Tours. In January, the Vatican announced that Pope John Paul II would be beatified this Sunday. So travel agents like this one began to prepare for a surge in tourists.

Instead, manager Roberta Zito says:

Roberta Zito: It was like a balloon that then popped. As the date started to get closer, the interest died down.

Previous crowds for beatification ceremonies — like the one for Mother Teresa — drew several million. That event was announced a year ahead. But the Vatican announced the celebration for John Paul less than four months ago. People rushed to book hotels, which jacked up prices, only to find flights to Rome were a problem.

Zito: People coming from the U.S. didn’t have time, and also the airlines, they were giving seats, but at very high rates.

Zito says Americans also realized they wouldn’t even be guaranteed a decent seat at the ceremony.

Zito: It’s an open event, basically first come, first served, so a lot of people realized possibility of being in St. Peter’s Square or around it was going to be very unlikely.

Down the street is the Santina hotel. It’s one of the five run by Giuseppe Roscioli, president of Rome’s Hotelier’s Association.

Giuseppe Roscioli: Normally we are booked for the first of May; now we are not.

Roscioli says there are 20,000 more vacancies than last May, when there was no big event. The prospect of all the Vatican crowds pouring in kept regular tourists away.

Roscioli: Normal tourists, they choose to don’t come in Rome during this period. It’s the same as if I want to make a weekend in Monte Carlo, I probably won’t choose the weekend of the Formula One because it’s a big event.

Which makes it a good time to get a cheap room here.

In Rome, I’m Megan Williams for Marketplace.

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