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Why Philadelphia may not make a fortune off of Pope Francis' visit

In this May 11, 2013 photo, passengers sit in the single-story cruiser tour bus decorated with a banner of Pope Francis and the Argentine flag in Buenos Aires, Argentina. With an Argentine on the throne of St. Peter, the South American country's capital city has launched a series of guided tours. Three-hour weekend bus trips and walking tours are so far non-commercial in the first step at papal tourism. The bus tours wind through Buenos Aires twice each Saturday and Sunday and can carry about 40 passengers, cruising past 24 sites linked to the new pope. There's no charge for the trip, or for more limited walking tours of downtown and neighborhood sites Tuesdays and Thursdays. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Philadelphia’s papal tourism boom is starting to look kind of like a bust.

It may have taken only 30 seconds for people to snap up 10,000 tickets to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia later this month, but hotel rooms and transit passes have yet to sell out.

Downtown Philadelphia has just over 11,000 hotel rooms, and as of Wednesday 1,500 of them were still available. “I think a lot of people have been waiting to make their reservations,” said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, noting that bookings have picked up recently.

And those looking to book Philadelphia hotels — even this close to the pope’s upcoming U.S. visit —are likely not to get gouged, at least not too badly. “The prices that you’re seeing now are pretty much on par with what you would see for a city-wide convention,” Grose said.

Grose still is expecting hotel rooms in downtown Philadelphia to sell out, but even if they do, travel procrastinators might be okay.

More than half of the inventory available through rental services is still are available in Philadelphia, said Colin Gardiner, vice president of operations at Tripping.com, a site that aggregates rental listings from places like HomeAway, Booking.com and others.

In Philadelphia, just 45% of available inventory has been booked. In Washington, D.C., that figure stands at 40% and in New York at 65%, according to data from Tripping.com.

Airbnb isn't part of Tripping.com's data, but that site alone still has 5,900 rentals available in Philadelphia.  And while some landlords may have been hoping for huge paydays, Airbnb said the average rental rate for properties that have been booked in Philadelphia is around $100 a night.

Thousands of rentals are still available in Washington, D.C., and New York as well.

Rental availability in Philadelphia via Airbnb

Pope Francis, one of the most popular popes in history, is scheduled to visit Philadelphia Sept. 26 and Sept 27 after stopping in Washington, D.C., and New York for visits with President Barack Obama and the United Nations. 

The Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau had projected Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the City of Brotherly Love, part of the World Meeting of Families, would generate an additional $418 million to $500 million for the city. This month's trip marks Pope Francis first visit to the United States since becoming pope.

Places around the world have come to see a papal visit as a tourism gold mine. Even the Vatican has seen a bump in traffic since Pope Francis. In the first nine months following his election, the Vatican saw 6.6 million tourists — nearly three times as many as it had seen in the previous year.

But in the Philadelphia area, landlords and hoteliers aren't the only ones waiting for the masses to plan their descent.

NJ Transit was hoping to sell 27,000 passes for papal visit-related travel on its train lines but has sold just 2,000 thus far.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which operates train service in Philadelphia and surrounding counties, has sold 116,000 train passes to people hoping to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, spokesman Andrew Busch said. That leaves 100,000 passes still up for grabs.

Still, Busch said "The numbers are a little lower than the capacity we have available but it still represents multiple times what we would have on a normal weekend."

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