Royal fans give London tourism a boost amid UK economic woes | Entertainment News
LONDON (AP) — Royal fans traveled to the heart of London to experience flag-lined roads, pomp-filled processions and, above all, brave a mile-long queue for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II, who died after an unprecedented seven decades on the throne. And while they’re here, they’re stocking up on hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Visitors flocking to central London from as far away as the US and India for the historic moment are giving businesses a boost at a time when the UK economy faces a cost crisis of life fueled by the highest inflation in four decades and forecasts of an impending recession.
“It’s history, you know, it happens once in a lifetime,” said Kanakkantt Benedict, who traveled from India with his wife and marched past the Queen’s flag-draped coffin this week. “So we were part of it.”
The pomp and pageantry that preceded the funeral of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch underscored the royal family’s power as a global attraction, from an elaborate military procession for his coffin topped by a crown drawing live viewers from around the world to piles of flowers filling Green Park near Buckingham Palace and souvenir shops hastily producing souvenirs commemorating the Queen’s life as people clamor for souvenirs.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to pay their respects to the Queen in the four days her body rests in state before her state funeral on Monday, driving up demand for hotel rooms in central London which in some cases, have doubled in price.
Hundreds of world leaders, from US President Joe Biden to the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and their entourages are in need of accommodation when they arrive for the Queen’s funeral. The same goes for police coming from all over Britain to help with security.
Occupancy levels could reach a record high of 95%, according to London-based group booking platform Hotelplanner.com.
“It’s no surprise when you consider that the eyes of the world are truly on the capital and the media, dignitaries and members of the public, just like me, who just want to be part of such a historic occasion. “said Thomas Emanuel, senior director of hotel analytics firm STR.
All 35 rooms at the two-star Corbigoe Hotel in London’s Victoria district near Buckingham Palace have been booked, duty manager Riaz Badar said.
“Nowadays the rooms are full in this area, not only in our hotel but in all hotels in this area,” Badar said.
On the River Thames, the Riverside Cafe which sits next to the long queue that allows people to glimpse the Queen’s coffin, was “extremely busy”, manager Zab Istanik said. It opened two hours earlier than normal, at 7 a.m.
“We were busy like that when the Queen Mother passed away in 2002. But it wasn’t as busy as it is…this week,” Istanik said.
Also up the road, Jason Rich’s food stand, Fed By Plants, was doing a good business selling lentil burgers.
“It’s a long line,” Rich said. “So that definitely had a nice boost for the business.”
The UK was already an attractive place to visit as demand for international travel rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic and the weakening of the pound, especially for US visitors, makes transatlantic travel more affordable.
University professor Chad Broughton, 51, who was visiting London from Chicago with two friends after a long pandemic delay, said their hotel room in the touristy Covent Garden district was expensive at 400 pounds ($456) the night.
But the trip to London was unique. “Seeing all these people queuing, seeing the reaction on the BBC and feeling that, you understand how important it is to people here,” he said.
Plus, the costs were offset by the falling currency, said friend Josh Walsman.
“We found everything to be of quite surprising value,” Walsman, a 51-year-old musician, said as they walked near Westminster Hall, where mourners inside paid their respects to the Queen and tourists outside took photos in streets closed to traffic.
Walsman said they went to a Champions League football game, had tickets to a play and a dinner reservation at the upmarket Indian restaurant Cinnamon Club.
“We mostly spent our money on pubs,” he said. “The conversion rate means every time a bill comes in, it’s like, ‘Oh, I thought that was about 30% more.'”
The pound briefly fell to a 37-year low against the dollar on Friday after UK retail sales volumes fell more than expected in August – a further sign of economic weakness.
Britain’s economy is reeling from rising energy prices spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine, leading to the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. The government has announced it will cap household and business energy bills, but prices remain extremely high. Inflation is the highest of the Group of Seven economies, at 9.9%.
In this context, the money spent by visitors offered a glimmer of hope.
“Speaking of our hospitality sector, not just our hotels but restaurants, bars and pubs, they’ve had three terrible years because of this pandemic,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
Budget hotel operator Travelodge said it had ordered extra breakfast supplies for its 78 London hotels for Monday, saying it expects many mourners to start their day with a breakfast – “Traditional Full English” lunch. Pub chain JD Wetherspoon said it would keep its central London pubs open on Monday during the Queen’s funeral.
Some analysts have predicted that the UK’s overall economic recovery following the period of royal mourning will be limited. Indeed, this would be compensated by the closure of supermarkets, retailers, hardware stores and other businesses for the funeral on Monday, which has become a public holiday.
However, renewed interest in the royal family could provide a prolonged boost to the travel and tourism industry, said Tim Hentschel, co-founder and CEO of Hotelplanner.com.
“Yes, in the short term the holiday will probably reduce productivity a bit,” Hentschel said. But “the overall momentum the UK is going to gain from all the tourism that’s going to be pouring in here over the next few days and then over the next few months will far outweigh” the short-term loss.
AP reporters Kwiyeon Ha, Jeffrey Schaeffer and Tian Macleod Ji contributed from London.
Follow AP coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii.