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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pope’s visit not the blessing Delaware hotels - Rooms Remain Unbooked

A good news source say's million Catholic pilgrims may be heading to Philadelphia for Pope Francis’ visit next weekend, but only a few hundred will be staying overnight in Delaware hotels. Lodging officials in New Castle County say the flood of bookings they expected to result from the pontiff’s visit never materialized. “It’s been a mixed bag, really,” said Paul Rada, who chairs the Delaware Hotel & Lodging Association. “A few hotels that booked groups early on are going to be OK,” he said. “But those that waited in the hopes of hitting a higher price point aren’t going to have much luck.”

Delaware Hotel RoomsDelaware hotels are not alone. One in four of the 11,200 hotel rooms in the City of Brotherly Love remained unbooked last week, the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association reported. As a result, many hotels there are cutting rates and offering incentives to fill those remaining rooms. “Everybody says the media hype over hotel room demand, long walks and difficulty traveling in Philadelphia ended up scaring people away,” Rada said. “But I think it’s more complex than that.” The addition of papal visits to Washington, D.C., and New York City watered down demand among travelers from the East Coast, he said. Meanwhile, pilgrims traveling from afar to see a pontiff known for championing the poor and marginalized generally are not inclined to shell out a few hundred bucks for a single night in a hotel. “These are not super-wealthy people,” Rada said. “And what money they are spending is likely going to their travel costs.” Another factor may be Delaware hotels’ decision not to sign on with the World Meeting of Families Conference, the weeklong event the pope is to attend in Philadelphia.

 The deal offered to list Delaware hotels on the conference’s website in exchange for a promise to forgive cancellations without penalty – a catch local hotels feared might leave them empty at the last minute. “If we had signed, we might have gotten more group bookings,” said Bill Silva, manager of Embassy Suites Newark-Wilmington South. “But that’s a big risk because those room bookings also might have canceled, leaving us no time to refill the rooms.” The World Meeting of Families also helped pilgrims avoid hotels altogether by promoting dozens of campgrounds in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, while offering an online tool similar to Airbnb that helped visitors connect with churches and families willing to rent rooms and entire homes during the pope’s visit. However, nearly 50 such listings in Delaware – from the Pennsylvania state line to Bethany Beach – remained unfilled Wednesday. One of those listings was Sports at the Beach in Georgetown, which offered overnight stays in four dormitories. “We had interest from a group that was bringing in 160 people from Mexico and Michigan, but they never booked anything,” facility president Pete Townshend said. “We knocked out price down to practically nothing – $10 a night – but couldn’t get any takers, so we basically gave up on it.” General managers at several New Castle County hotels said they received similar inquiries after the Vatican confirmed the pope’s visit last year – calls that never resulted in actual bookings. “It’s sad because if things had been different, it could have been a nice weekend for everyone,” said William Sullivan, managing director of The Courtyard by Marriott Newark at University of Delaware. “As it is, we’ll be full Friday and Saturday, but not from pope business,” he said. “We have other groups, sports teams, weddings and families coming to campus, so it’s not a disaster.”

 Sheraton Suites in Wilmington is one of the few Delaware hotels that reported significant space bookings for the pope’s visit. The hotel rented 120 rooms to a large group of pilgrims and another 65 rooms to an airline that wanted to be sure its crews could get to Philadelphia International Airport on time. “The only reason we got those bookings was because we made a conscious decision to take group reservations early when people still thought Philadelphia was going to be booked up,” manager Jerry Rice said. “If we hadn’t, our occupancy rate this weekend probably would have been in the 65 to 75 percent range.” Linda Parkowski, the state’s tourism director, described the poor booking among Delaware hotels as a missed opportunity. “I think we did everything we could, but we’re not the organizers of the event,” she said. “The conference was organized by a private entity and they’re running the show.” Rada said some hotels could still seem a bump in business this weekend as travelers who otherwise might have stopped in the Philadelphia area will instead push south to avoid the crowds. But, he said, many in the state’s hotel industry already are looking ahead to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next summer. See Delaware Hotel Room Stay

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