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With 2.5 million expected for the beloved Pope's beatification, hotel prices start to soar and the Vatican warns against price gouging the pilgrims.

Papal keepsakes (Radio Nederland)

VATICAN CITY - As Rome braces for a massive influx of pilgrims for the May 1 beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, hotels in the Eternal City are whetting their collective lips. Add to the once-in-a-lifetime spiritual celebration, an annual May Day popular music festival and the arrival of warm Roman weather, and prices of some downtown hotels have suddenly tripled. Even rooms on the outskirts of the city are selling out.

Some 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to flock to Rome for the ceremony marking the beatification of John Paul, to put him on the road to sainthood six years after his death brought millions to the Italian capital. Finding a room near the Vatican is already virtually impossible, but now hotel prices have increased by between 200 and 300 % for the end of April, beginning of May.

A two-star hotel near the Termini railway station, for example, normally charges 100 euros a night, and goes down to 48 euros in the low tourist season. But it is charging 330 euros for the night between April 30 and May 1. A double room in a four-star hotel in the downtown Piazza della Repubblica normally goes for 273 euros a night, but for that night the fare goes up to 492 euros.

Giuseppe Roscioli, head of the Rome chapter of the Federalberghi hotel association, shrugged off any controversy. "There's no price speculation," says Roscioli. "The increase is just a question of the law of supply and demand: as demand grows, so do prices, even if the price can never be over the maximum fare that is advertised – that would be illegal."

Roscioli said that the choice of May 1, when Rome hosts the annual daylong concert that attracts tens of thousands of youths, to beatify John Paul was "senseless' from the hoteliers' point of view. "It's like trying to find a room in Monte Carlo during the Formula One race," he said. Talks over how to cope with the situation are planned with city hall officials.

The 200 religious institutes of the greater Rome province, including 160 in the city itself, have made some 15,000 beds available, including 10,000 in the city. But they sold out within 24 hours of the beatification announcement, with a long waiting list now built up. "Bookings have all been confirmed within a week's time," said Andrea Misuri of the religious institutes. Misuri said the greater region of Lazio, which includes Rome, has been mobilized, from the Castelli foothills south of the capital to the San Felice Circeo area on the southern coast.

Pilgrims are expected from across the globe: Poland, John Paul's home country, France, Germany, Spain and South America. Typically a bed in such institutes is about 30 to 50 % less than an average hotel room, "In this case there have been increases, " Misuri concedes, "but moderate ones."

If you are thinking bed and breakfast, think again. An operator of a B&B near St. Peter's Square said rooms in that period go by the week , and for a price -- 1,800 euros -- usually charged for an entire month. "All our rooms are booked, and we had to turn away many requests," said the operator.

The regional government of Lazio is readying two university campuses to accommodate the youths who want to take part in the event. But many pilgrims are expected to get to Rome by bus in the morning and leave the same night. Many have asked the religious institutes to be able to park their buses near the institutes and be allowed to use their facilities.

Worry over the price hikes has been voiced by the Vatican. "It will be a huge celebration of faith, and it's not right to exploit the world's devotion and genuine love for (John Paul)," said a source at the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

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