Papal Resignation May Be Tourism Boon for Eternal City

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But travelers worried about being priced out of witnessing this world event may be in luck. Travelocity reported the average price from the U.S. to Rome this spring is $1,220 -- a 20 percent decrease from the same time last year.

In more good news for potential visitors, hotel prices in the Eternal City are also down since last spring -- 26 percent lower, averaging $145 per night.

Packages that combine flights and hotels may yield savings. On Tuesday, a search by ABC News found 10 packages from New York City departing March 9, including a round-trip flight and six nights hotel stay in Rome, available for less than $1,200, including taxes, when two adults traveled together.

The biggest problem for travelers may not be price, but instead timing the trip just right. It's impossible to know now how long the conclave will last before the white smoke is released from the Sistine Chapel and a new pope is chosen. Without that information, there's no way to know when the papal inauguration will take place.

Because this is the first time in 600 years a living pope has retired, the process surrounding the events over the coming weeks and the effect on tourism is a bit unclear.

However, Perillo Tours, a leading tour operator in Italy, notified customers on its website that the Sistine Chapel would be closed during the papal conclave.

Dark Rome Tours said its tours would carry on during the closure.

"We have been working with the Vatican authorities to ensure that disruptions to our customers are minimal," said Larry Millard, director of operations. "Although the Sistine Chapel will obviously be closed several days during March, our message is that the rest of the Vatican museums and Dark Rome tours are open for business."

In any event, the Sistine Chapel will be around for awhile.

However, no one knows how many years it will be from the current conclave before another new pope will be chosen.

"Without question," said Keane, "being in St. Peter Square when the smoke rises would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

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