(MENAFN- AFP) For enterprising dwellers in Philadelphia, the pope's maiden visit to the US means one thing: mega bucks and listing their apartments on Airbnb for thousands of dollars a night.
Pope Francis may be a legendary critic of unfettered capitalism, but his September 26-27 visit has fueled a free-wheeling, money-making opportunity in the finest free market tradition.
Debt-burdened students and house-proud professionals are keen to cash in on the two million Catholics expected to attend what has been dubbed one of the biggest religious events held in the US.
Eric, 26, a student in medical school with dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon, put his newly renovated, three-bedroom loft duplex on the website for a cool $10,000 a night.
"It seemed like a nice, easy way to make a chunk of change," he said, touting $1,000 per person per night as the "going rate" for his area and that his pad can easily sleep 10.
"Two blocks from convention center where Pope will be visiting," shrieks his advertisement in capitals.
Eric and his two roommates have more than $500,000 in college debt between them. Any pope windfall, he said, will go toward paying off loans.
"As it gets closer, if we don't get any bites with the laughable amount that we're charging, maybe we'll drop it a little bit," Eric said.
He plans to crash with friends, or possibly his girlfriend. It doesn't matter where.
"If someone's going to pay me that amount of money, I would sleep in the street!" he said.
But he is a tenant and, like other would-be hosts interviewed by AFP, did not want to give his last name for fear of being busted by landlords opposed to short-term sublets.
Airbnb says listings have increased tenfold and bookings nearly threefold in Philadelphia since this time last year.
- Willing to wait -
Drawing a wider net than two-bedroom apartments listed in the city center, Airbnb claimed the average price for booked and available listings for the weekend of the Pope's visit was $125.
But Mark, 30, who works in the financial industry, is advertising his brand new, three-bedroom home "just steps away" from the pope for $5,000 a night for a minimum of two nights.
His listing shows an airy home with designer furniture, polished hardwood floors, a fully equipped kitchen and a stunning roof deck complete with outdoor seating and fabulous views.
Mark said he listed the home two weeks ago and is hopeful of getting a deal.
"I assume, because there are still cheaper alternatives out there, it will take a little bit to get this property booked, but I'm willing to wait," he said.
Meg Kane, a spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families, where the pope will celebrate mass, said there are 11,500 hotel rooms in the city and 65,000 more within a 60-mile (100-kilometer) radius.
Rooms are still available. Pilgrims can also stay with host families, hostels, camping grounds and retreats, she said, declining to comment on Airbnb specifically.
"We live in a free-market economy and we can understand why some might want to offer their homes for personal gain," said Kane, saying they had no control over the rental fees.
Few hosts seem troubled by what the pope might make of turning a spiritual event into a business opportunity.
"I think he would probably say, 'hey, you know what, we're all humans here. You should help out your brother'," said Eric, who like Pope Francis is from Argentina.
"But it's also capitalism. I think, at its finest. And in that respect, if there's somebody willing to pay it, then that's fine. That's what the free market is."
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