Papal visit a boon to Center City hotels

Pope Francis enters the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, for Mass. (CLEM MURRAY/Staff Photographer)

Center City hotels cashed in handsomely during the papal-visit weekend with rates that were more than twice those of a year ago, even after an eleventh-hour scramble to cut prices because of low demand, according to an incomplete tally released Wednesday.

Revenue from room bookings at 42 hotels in Center City and University City was $3.6 million higher on Friday and Saturday than it was on the same Friday and Saturday of 2014, said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, adding that figures for Sunday were not yet available.

"I have a feeling that Sunday is going to be great as well," Grose said.

The increase was the result of mostly higher-than-normal rates, given that the hotels in the aggregate did not sell out those two nights.

Occupancy Friday was only 87.5 percent compared with 93.4 percent a year ago, but the average room rate was much higher than normal, $354 a night compared with $168 a year earlier, Grose said.

Saturday numbers were even higher, with occupancy at 93.3 percent (still lower than the 97 percent a year ago), but the $380 average room rate was much higher than the $170 logged a year earlier.

Grose noted that the prior year's numbers were higher than average, with one convention leaving and another coming in that weekend, further underscoring the achievement this past weekend.

The result left hoteliers breathing a sigh of relief. As recently as mid-August, advertised room rates were very high, as was public anxiety about security restrictions.

Advance bookings were so low for the weekend of planned two-day appearances by Pope Francis that hoteliers, city leaders, and event organizers organized a publicity campaign to attract papal visitors, Room rates dropped from as high as $1,000, in some instances, and to as low as about $100 a night at the other extreme.

Grose said the revenue data were reassuring given how high expectations had been at the start. Far fewer than the initially projected 1.5 million people attended the two-day affair, broadcast across the globe.

"The real win-win," Grose added, "was the positive papal publicity we received. We could never buy that level of exposure."

mpanaritis@phillynews.com

215-854-2431@Panaritism