PHILADELPHIA — Thousands of people have already registered for next year’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, according to the event’s organizers, so the approximately 11,000 hotel rooms in Philadelphia, Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, South Jersey and Delaware are going fast.
Residents in those areas who live within 120 miles of center city Philadelphia are being asked to open their homes and host some of the expected 10,000 to 15,000 visitors to the Sept. 22-25 congress from across the United States and 150 countries.
The “Host a Family” program of the congress, in partnership with the global travel company Homestay.com, aims to match available rooms and possibly vacation homes in the Poconos or Jersey shore with visitors taking part in the congress and the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia Sept. 26-27 that is expected to draw up to 2 million people.
“The excitement for the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis’ visit cannot be overstated,” said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. “The response to the opening of registration and confirmation of the papal visit has been tremendously positive and we will need every housing option available.”
She called Homestay.com a “trusted brand that will provide a terrific, cost-effective housing option through the ‘Host a Family’ initiative.”
Hosts can use Homestay.com’s secure system on the 2015 World Meeting of Families website, www.worldmeeting2015.org, to register a guest bedroom, a furnished apartment or vacation home in the region.
Farrell said residents of the Philadelphia region “often pride ourselves on the ‘brotherly love and sisterly affection’ that defines our region,” and the home-stay program “is an excellent way to show exactly that by offering our visitors a unique and authentic living experience.”
Whether it’s empty-nest parents with rooms to spare, young professionals with extra space, or individuals or young families wishing to welcome visitors to the area, potential hosts can find program details and go through the step-by-step online registration process on the website.
The system matches the host families with people registered for the congress who are seeking accommodations. Both parties can communicate needs and preferences by email but the addresses will remain hidden until the agreements are finalized.
Host families also can earn some money by opening their homes to the guests, although the website does not offer suggested rates.
Event organizers suggest “a modest fee” to ask a visitor to pay per room per night for their stay, “what you feel is a reasonable accommodation,” said World Meeting of Families spokeswoman Lizanne Pando.
For example, a condo or apartment overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, along which the Festival of Families cultural celebration and the papal Mass will be held, could command a higher fee than a room in a town 100 miles from the city, Pando suggested.
One requirement of host families, according to the website, is that they provide a light breakfast to their guests each day of their stay. Dinner or other accommodations could be agreed upon by the guests and hosts, who also can lay down the rules for living in their home.
By matching hosts with like-minded guests, the program encourages community and family values, according to Homestay.com’s CEO Alan Clarke.
“We believe that ‘Host a Family’ can enhance and enrich the cultural experience for congress attendees while also providing a most genuine Philadelphia visit,” he told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
According to Homestay.com, it created its network to solve acute accommodation shortages, mitigating price rises, and to help local communities benefit from large-scale local events such as the World Meeting of Families and papal visit.
All of which will make getting a place for visitors to lay their heads during the unprecedented scale of next year’s events more important as more people from around the world register for the event and hotels become solidly booked.
Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.