Will 'city of two popes' boost Italian economy?

The fact that Rome will soon get the unusual status of "city of the two Popes" might appeal to tourists, writes Tentori

Story highlights

  • Tentori says religious tourism is generally characterized by big numbers but low expenditures
  • The Pope's resignation was unexpected and struck Italy like a bolt out of the blue, writes Tentori
  • The tourism industry, one of the most important assets for Italy, is not immune from the crisis

In 2011 the Italian movie Habemus Papam depicted a pope struggling with his own conscience, who takes the outrageous decision of stepping down.

The fact that this event took place Monday in Rome went probably well beyond everyone's imagination.

Pope Benedict's resignation was unexpected and it struck Italy like a bolt out of the blue. The influence of what happens in the Holy See on Italy is much stronger than on any other country in the world and it is due to both historical and geographic reasons.

Read more: Pope Benedict XVI's resignation explained

Nevertheless, whether and how the vacuum of power provoked by Joseph Ratzinger's announcement will affect Italy's economic situation is difficult to see at the moment.

Davide Tentori

On Monday, Italy's 10-year government bond yields reached a new peak. Can the Pope's resignation be considered responsible for that? The answer seems to be negative, since an increasing trend, which has more to do with the uncertainty surrounding the forthcoming parliamentary elections, had been already observed during the past two weeks.

Read more: Too tired to go on, Pope Benedict resigns

It is undoubtedly true that Benedict XVI's stepping down surprised Italian politicians. Votes from Catholic believers seem to be distributed over the three main competitors (Bersani's Democratic Party, Berlusconi's People of Freedom and Monti's coalition) and uncertainty over their reactions might exacerbate the tones of the campaign, now in its two last weeks, since the three parties might be willing to appease as many Catholics as possible.

Watch more: The Pope's German roots

Nevertheless, the Pope's resignation does not seem likely to bring about major consequences over the financial and economic situation of the country. In the short run, the forthcoming elections of the new successor of St Peter will attract a huge number of pilgrims from all over the world.

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The tourism industry, one of the most important assets for the Italian economy, is not immune from the crisis and data recently released by the National Observatory on Tourism show that the number of foreign visitors to Italy decreased, in the period January to October 2012, by 6.2% over the same period in 2011.

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Rome will soon get the unusual status of "city of the two popes" (since Joseph Ratzinger will still be living in the Vatican, after a period in the detached Castel Gandolfo's residence) and that might look appealing to foreign tourists.

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However religious tourism is generally characterized by big numbers but low expenditures: Therefore, a revived wave of pilgrimages to Rome might not be enough to boost Italian tourism.

Whether the smoke coming out from St Peter's chimney will be "white" or "black" for the Italian economic recovery is not immediately clear.

This "inter-regnum" period will definitely increase uncertainty in the political competition, but not enough to again raise fear in global financial markets towards Italy.

Read more: Surprising standards for the next Catholic leader