Pope's funeral creates new challenges for trade

Millions of mourners poured into Rome following the death of Pope John Paul II, creating challenges for hotels, airlines and other tourist services.

The city is absolutely full with foreign tourists and pilgrims, said Marcel Levy, general manager of the Hotel Eden, a Le Meridien hotel in Rome.

While the influx has benefitted hotels and airlines, it has also complicated some day-to-day operations. At Jolly Hotels, one of Italys largest chains, Dorella Lazzarotto, director of sales and marketing, reported that increased business has been offset somewhat by cancellations.

Some companies that had booked during this period are canceling because they are afraid of the chaotic situation, Lazzarotto said from Milan. So there is increased demand, but you have to take into account cancellations.

Angelo Bettoja, president and owner of the upscale Bettoja chain, who spoke to TravelWeekly.com a day before the popes funeral, said, We are getting cancellations from people who call and say, Lets wait until the city gets back to normal.

Because of the crowds and tight security, Bettoja was anticipating that some of his employees might not make it to work, but he said his hotels would remain operational.

Tour operations

Tour operators also report a spike in demand. Pilgrimage operator Regina Tours saw an amazing increase in bookings, according to John Peters, executive vice president of Group IST, Reginas parent company. 

Perillo Tours President Steve Perillo said bookings doubled over the weekend compared with previous weeks.

Generally, our clients book months ahead. I guess its just that were seeing 24/7 coverage of Rome, and Rome is sunny in all the pictures, Perillo said.

As for keeping their groups moving in and out on schedule, operators remained confident.

This isnt the high season, said Central Holidays President Fred Berardo. It would be far different if this was happening in the middle of July.

We have relationships with the hotels, said Phillip Gordon, CEO of Globus. We have people there now and others arriving in the next few days, and our rooms are protected.

But all operators will have to find alternatives to visiting the Sistine Chapel in the coming weeks because it will be closed to the public while the cardinals gather to choose a new pope.

Scrambling for air

Although European airlines added intra-Europe flights into Rome, none had increased transatlantic service or capacity, and despite a rush on airline tickets to Rome, agents reported they were generally able to get space.

At the Polonia Travel Agency in Chicago, owner and manager Mary Koszela said she was using all the European hub connections ... all the carriers, whoever has space, adding that fares were surprisingly reasonable, given the high demand.

Agent Paul Pachacz of the Albatross Travel Agency in Brooklyn, N.Y., said some clients were booking at higher, last-minute prices in order to arrive in Rome in time for the April 8 funeral.

Sally Watkins, an Italy specialist with Century Travel and Cruises, Austin, Texas, said she will have clients in Rome one day after the conclave begins, so she warned them that they wont see the Sistine Chapel.

Coincidentally, she said, an acquaintance who is not a client was scheduled to fly through Rome the morning of the funeral. Realizing that air space would be restricted, she advised the traveler to ask for a different routing. The airline obliged.

Michael Milligan, David Cogswell, Kenneth Kiesnoski and Nadine Godwin contributed to this report. To contact the reporters, send e-mail to [email protected].

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