It’s official. Pope Francis is coming to town in September for the World Meeting of Families. His visit to Philadelphia is expected to be a major draw and put hotel rooms at a premium.
The event is expected to draw 1.5 million to 2 million Catholics to the city from Sept. 22 to 27. Activities will culminate with a Sept. 27 Papal Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway in front of the Art Museum.
Donna Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, said staging the gathering will cost millions.
“Security, transportation, all manner of logistics, hotels, registration … we opened registration approximately a week ago,” she said.
The number of visitors is expected to far exceed the city’s 11,000 hotel rooms. Many travelers will have to stay far outside Center City, said Ed Grose of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. WIth the Pope now confirmed to attend, Grose said the World Meeting of Families will now be a worldwide media event.
“There have been some hotels that have been contacted by the news media, some organizations that have been trying to book whole hotels,” he said Monday after officials confirmed the papal visit and announced some of the details at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Students representing several schools in the region cheered as Mayor Michael Nutter introduced them by school name.
The economic impact will reach Delaware and as far as Atlantic City where some attendees will stay at casino hotels, said Jack Ferguson of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The pope, we had forecast 1.5 million visitors, that would be Friday-Saturday, that would be for the Mass on Sunday, so collectively another $300 plus million, so collectively about $417 million dollars for that week for the city of Philadelphia,” Ferguson quickly calculated.
Dan Hilferty, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross and one of those helping organize the World Meeting of Families, said he and others are seeking private and corporate contributions to bankroll the event.
“We have a budget of $45 million, we can say that fundraising is going very well,” he said. “The business community, the civic community has been very responsive, and we’re slightly more than halfway to our goal.”
The pope’s participation will drive up those expenses two ways — by increasing turnout and by requiring tighter security.