| The conclave to elect a new pope is providing a business boon in Rome, which is reeling from a struggling economy, AFP said Monday. Catholic faithful and tourists are flocking to the Italian capital to watch the papal conclave to pick a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
The Italian government said an estimated 150,000 people gathered at St. Peter`s Square Feb. 27 to see Pope Benedict`s final general audience after announcing his resignation.
Antonio Galati, the owner of Metropolis Hotel near the square, said, "Hotels in Rome had been suffering from a decrease in tourists amid the economic downturn, but are now fully booked by Catholics due to the conclave. We`ve had to turn people away." A hotel room near St. Peter`s Square goes for 1,000 euro (1,300 U.S. dollar) per night and all hotels are fully booked. Rooms that provide a view of the white smoke coming out of Capella Sistina, where the pope`s election will be held, are also fully booked.
Businesses in downtown Rome are also reaping the benefits of the occasion. A souvenir store on Via Della Conciliazione, the main avenue leading up to the square, saw sales surge after Pope Benedict announced his resignation Feb. 11. The owner of a pizza store on the street said, "Sales have more than doubled since the pope`s resignation."
AFP said the Italian people hope that a South American cardinal is elected the new pope because he would boost the Italian economy. Nomination of a pope from the continent, which is home to 40 percent of the world`s Catholics, is expected to attract tourists to Rome. According to estimates by Roman authorities Monday, at least 200,000 to 300,000 people will join the inauguration if the new pope is South American.
The spending spree due to interest in the new pope has also spread online. The iPhone app Conclave Alert by a Roman IT company is gaining huge popularity after being released Friday. The app offers information on pope candidates and the conclave. App developer Andrea Dotti said, "The app is also popular in Korea, South America and northern Europe."