Luxury Sydney hotels are bracing for a "potential disaster" as WYD pilgrims opt to sleep in backpackers and budget rooms or to sleep on school floors.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Sydney's top-end hotels are heavily discounting rooms to try to persuade Sydneysiders to stay in town for World Youth Day.
The Australian Hotels Association, representing 50 hotels, said its members were facing "potential disaster" after luxury rooms set aside for the Catholic Church have been left empty and business travellers fearing inconvenience steer clear of Sydney.
AHA chief executive officer Sally Fielke said hotels across Sydney would suffer losses.
"The numbers that were predicted to fill our hotel rooms have simply not materialised," Ms Fielke told reporters.
"We're predicting that there will be about a 30 per cent occupancy rate during this period, as opposed to the comparable 75 per cent expected normally about that time of year."
The Observatory Hotel, with its balcony views of Barangaroo, the site of the opening Mass and the papal welcome, set aside 60 per cent of its 100 rooms for World Youth Day visitors, only to receive one booking.
The hotel is mothballing its day spa during the week-long gathering and is urging staff to take leave.
The demographic of WYD visitors is blamed for the shortfall, with most of the pilgrims opting to stay in billeted accommodation.
Consequently, five star hotel rooms will be selling for three star prices.
But World Youth Day organisers say backpacker and two- and three-star hotel rooms are almost all sold.
WYD organisers also announced that Sydney Olympic Park, ruled out as too cold for the outdoor papal Mass, would become home to 12,000 pilgrims during next month's event.
The pilgrims will be accommodated mainly in the indoor venues of the Sydney Showground, where the Royal Easter Show is staged. The new arrangements will ease demand for sleeping spaces at the city's state schools.
Meanwhile, the NSW government's World Youth Day spokeswoman Kristina Keneally told reporters that the number of domestic visitors is now expected to reach just 60,000.However, Sydney Airport Corporation Ltd has confirmed that 35 new airline flights and one dedicated charter have been booked to bring passengers into Sydney in the lead-up to WYD08.
"World Youth Day is bringing international visitors into Sydney in droves," said Chief Operating Officer Danny Casey.
"Our information is that almost every flight into Sydney is fully booked in the lead-up to the event and 36 more flights have had to be added so far.
“Sydney is going to come alive this winter with 125,000 young people from more than 170 nations arriving here to celebrate their faith with 100,000 young people from all over Australia."
Mr Casey said more than 50,000 special WYD08 visas have either been issued or applied for, although most overseas pilgrims – those from 32 nations with streamlined visa procedures with Australia - are expected to collect their visas as they leave their country.Sex industry boost
In another story, a report by analysts predicted the 2008-09 financial year would see strong growth for brothels, strip clubs and prostitutes, primarily on the back of a marked increase in tourism levels to Sydney as a result of the Catholic Church's World Youth Day.
IBIS World senior industry analyst Ed Butler said the report did not suggest the 225,000 international pilgrims or clergy would be heading to brothels or strip clubs.
But the event, to be held from July 15 to 20, would also draw people from outside the church including tourists, support staff and media – and some of them would use the sex industry's services.
However, brothel madams told news.com.au expressed doubts that World Youth Day would be of benefit to their trade.
And it seems this is something they agreee with World Youth Day organisers on."I'd be surprised if the sex industry gets a boost from a religious event," a World Youth Day spokesman said.
Plenty of room at the inn, pilgrims (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/6/08)
Hotels to lose during World Youth Day (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/6/08)
World Youth Day 'will be a boost for sex industry' (News.com.au, 4/6/08)
Catholic Church lends a hand to sex industry (Scopical, 4/6/08)
Sex industry to benefit from WYD(SBS, 4/6/08)
Papal invitation hasn’t got a prayer (Central Western Daily, 4/6/08)