Pope Francis is scheduled to make his first visit to the United States next week, where he will visit Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. The excitement is drawing an interest in the sharing economy as more people are renting out their homes, and sites like Airbnb are seeing a surge of first-time users.
In Philadelphia, some estimates predict as many as 1.5 million visitors will flood the city for the pope. In a city with only 11,500 hotel rooms, it's creating a new demand—though not as much as some might have hoped.
Kathleen Townsend and her three roommates in downtown Philadelphia recently joined AirBnb, based on the hype of the pope's trip. "We heard about all these people doing it and getting thousands of dollars, but we weren't getting as much interest as we thought," she said.
Originally her four bedroom home was listed for $2,000 for a stay between Thursday through Monday. But upon learning the pope would only be in town Saturday and Sunday, they modified their booking requirement, offering the home for around $500 per night instead.
When it was posted specifically for the pope's visit, however, they were contacted by someone looking to stay during the "Made in America" music festival taking place in early September. Townsend and her roommates were going to be out of town that weekend and figured they'd give it a try.
"We were nervous at first because it was young people who were here for a concert and probably drinking…much different than people coming for the pope," Townsend said. "But it worked out great and we'd do it again."
The hype in Philadelphia, prompted the city to become the latest city to legalize rentals through online marketplaces like Airbnb, and require short-term rentals be subject to an 8.5 percent hotel tax.