Pope Francis helped boost tourism at the Vatican by 180% in 2013

Tops with tourists
Tops with tourists
Image: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi
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He really is the people’s pope.

Almost three times as many tourists have visited Vatican City in the last 9 1/2 months than all of 2012, testament to Pope Francis’  popularity and the public’s fascination with him. Last week, the pontiff was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

Between March and December of 2013,  some 6.6 million tourists poured into Vatican City, a figure calculated using ticketing figures for special events and crowd estimates at popular sites like St. Peter’s Square. Meanwhile, in 2012, the Vatican had a total of 2.35 million visitors. That was the last calendar year that the controversial Pope Benedict served before stepping down in February and becoming the first pope to fail to serve a life term in almost 600 years.

Pope Francis, (called Jorge Mario Bergoglio before his election), an Argentine and the first pope from the Americas, has enjoyed wide popularity in Latin America, and the US, despite questions about his past. He also has become well known as a progressive thinker, who speaks openly about income inequality, capitalism, and homosexuality, often angering conservative Catholics.

Italian tourism officials had been predicting a bump in Vatican visits in the first years following Pope Francis’ election, since they’d seen increases in visitation and hotel reservations within the first months of his election. It is estimated that a tenth of all tourists visits to Italy are to Vatican City, and 10.3% of Italy’s GDP relies on tourism.