Come next week, the German city of Cologne will be bursting at the seams as it plays host to some 800,000 pilgrims in town for World Youth Day. Local businesses are rubbing their hands in anticipation.
How will young Christians spend their money at World Youth Day?
Tipped to be one of the largest religious gatherings ever in Germany, World Youth Day isn't only inspiring spirituality in the city's residents. The event is also spawning a decidedly commercial side, as regional companies try to cash in on the one-off economic opportunity by extending their opening hours. But Uwe Klein, head of Cologne’s retail association says the excitement is misplaced.
"The people coming here are not going to have a lot of money. The main object is to provide the visitors and guests with the basic essentials, which means food and drink, and of course souvenirs," Klein said.
And much of the food will be provided by World Youth Day Limited itself, which sets a good portion of its 100 million euros ($123 million) budget aside for catering.
The Economic Development Council in Bonn suggests that a typical tourist will spend between 60 and 100 euros a day, but experts say that will not be the case with World Youth Day visitors. Matthias Johnen, manager of the Regional Hoteliers association, says visitors at previous such events could be divided up in to three categories.
World Youth Day volunteers
"We can safely assume from past experience that roughly one third of visitors will be coming to pray, another third will be here to sightsee and a final third will be here to shop," Johnen said.
Retailers and caterers have been preparing for this event for months and have a list of 25,000 benevolent volunteers ready to lend a hand when the queues get too long. Many restaurants have even promised to keep their prices down, and will be offering "pilgrim specials" at affordable prices.
In search of the fat cash
Where local businesses are hoping to make their money is through the 6,000 journalists who are also expected to descend on the city for the event, and the day-trippers who are likely to roll up with rather fatter wallets than the pilgrims. But Nina Schmedding, spokeswoman for World Youth Day, is reluctant to divide visitors into consumer types, and says that spending habits will vary from one event to another.
A time to prey or a time to shop?
"There's been no study on the behavior of the pilgrims. I think a lot is going to depend on the weather," she said.
The general consensus, however, is that there shouldn't be too much emphasis on the economic side of the event, but that it should serve to raise the profile of the region. After all, today’s pilgrims are potentially tomorrow's tourists.