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City Controller Releases Results Of Survey Of Local Businesses About Pope's Visit

By Pat Loeb and Syma Chowdhry

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz has released the results of a survey of local businesses about the Pope's visit and says he found the most surprising thing was what has happened to hotels in the city.

He says many have vacancies, room rates are dropping and at least one hotel has given up on international visitors and now hopes just to get other local businesses to use it to put up their workers through the weekend when roads are closed.

Butkovitz admits the survey is far from scientific. Out of thousands of businesses in Center City, his office surveyed 250 and just 68 returned the questionnaire.

But he says the anecdotal information is revealing, particularly about hotels.

"One hotel said they rented out 44 rooms at a thousand dollars a night," says Butkovitz. "Then everybody cancelled so then they rented out all their rooms at $500 a night and then everybody cancelled. And their current plan was to advertise rooms at 99 dollars."

Butkovitz says since the survey was done anonymously, he could not share the name of the hotel.

He cited another hotel that he said had changed marketing strategies.

"Instead of directing it toward international visitors, they were now trying to get restaurants and businesses in town to use it as a place for their workers to stay so they could get to work, which was obviously a much lower value use of the hotel," he said.

A World Meeting of Families spokeswoman said she couldn't speak to the Papal visit weekend alone since the group had reserved blocks of rooms for the entire congress, not just the weekend but she said it had reserved one-third of the hotel rooms in the city and just 60 percent of them are booked.

She added, though, that attendance at the meeting itself is expected to be more than 17,000 -- twice the last one in Milan.



Philadelphia tourism officials have begun promoting the fact that rooms are still available on social media but declined to comment on whether that was a worrisome sign, with just over three weeks until the Pope arrives.

As CBS 3's Syma Chowdhry reports, Eyewitness News found one business owner that says he understands the struggles for an event like this and is happy with the city's effort.

This soap business is looking forward to some good, clean fun during the Papal Visit.

Steve Duross is the co-founder of Duross and Langel on 13th and Sansom, a spot that is smack dab in the middle of the Francis Festival Grounds, formerly called the traffic box.

He and his business partner Sarah Evanco are excited to cater to tourists that weekend.

"Looking for unique shops, where they might be able to take home a little souvenir," said Duross.

Like this Pope on a soap.

Duross and Langel have a salon and yoga studio upstairs that will close for business during the Pope's visit but they feel they were given enough information from officials to plan for the store to stay open.

"Some folks feel that it is better to close we just are kind of throwing out hands up and saying, 'let's see what happens,'" said Sarah Evancho.

"They explained to us exactly what's going and what our expectations should be," said Duross.

Many other business owners disagree.

According to a survey conducted by the City Controller, with 68 businesses responding, 86 percent say they felt they were provided with insufficient event details from city officials.

Of that, 48 percent felt they were still able to plan while 38 percent of the business say they have not been able to plan for the Pope's visit.

"For this event to reach its greatest potential the business community needs to be assured that their planning concerns and needs will be addressed," said Butkovitz.

Ninety-one percent of the businesses say the traffic box creates challenges to doing business like getting supplies and getting employees to work.

Duross left it up to his staff to decide if they want to come in or not.

"For us it was smarter to just pretend like it was a snow day for those who didn't want to come down and the rest of us will hit enjoy what happens," said Duross.

Sixty-five percent of businesses indicated they are cautiously optimistic, while 24 percent expect to close during the Pope's visit.


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