Will the coronation bring a tourism bonanza to the UK or turn people away?

TOAs soon as the coronation date was announced last October, Kathryn Mooney booked a flight to London. “I jumped in right away,” says Mooney, 54, an executive assistant from Toronto. “All I thought was that I had better buy a property, than buy a flight, because I knew there would be a huge demand.”

Why did you want to come? “I know it sounds really weird, but I want to go out there and send them some support and love from the sidelines. And honor the queen.

Although she admits that she doesn’t have the same appreciation for King Carlos III that she had for her mother, she says that royalty still “represents the palaces, they represent the pomp, and that’s something I want to experience. I want to see this. I want to feel it. Because in North America we don’t have anything even close to it.”

Mooney certainly won’t be the only person flying to the UK for the coronation, but how many will there be? A common argument in defense of the royal family is the benefit they bring to the UK economy through tourism. But despite widespread claims of their tourist value, it’s hard to find any firm evidence that the Windsors are what draw visitors to Britain, and most claims are anecdotal or speculative. The storm-tossed tourism industry may be desperately waiting for a crowning blow, but the benefit the event will bring is unclear.

“The problem is that to attribute causality to anything in tourism is exceptionally difficult,” admits Joss Croft, chief executive of UK Inbound, which represents the inbound tourism industry. “Why do people travel to the UK? In reality, picking out a particular element of why people have decided to come at a certain time is almost impossible.”

For some, of course, the coronation is an uncomplicated bonus. “For us, it’s a great help for business,” says Lana Bennett, CEO of Tours International, a specialty inbound tour operator that has sold out all of its coronation packages. “We have been very fortunate, coming out of the pandemic, that we also had the jubilee last year. People just wanted to be in London for an event like that.”

Union jacks decorate London’s New Bond Street in preparation for the coronation. Photo: Vuk Valcic/Zuma Press/Shutterstock

There are people like Mooney, mostly from North America and explicitly fans of royalty, who want to spend a week visiting Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace and get etiquette lessons on the proper way to have afternoon tea. . However, even for specialist operators like Tours International, this market is comparatively small, Bennett says. “Oh yeah, it’s not huge. It is a carriage.

So how important will the event be on a broader scale? Visit Britain, the national tourism authority, points to an estimated £1.2bn economic boost from the jubilee weekend, though Patricia Yates, the organisation’s chief executive, says the lion’s share came from domestic visitors. (For comparison, the government model would estimate the cost to the economy of an extra day of bank holiday at £1.36bn, as reported last year.)

But it’s not just about the weekend itself, Yates argues. “We know that our history and heritage is a real draw for visitors from abroad, and it will look amazing on TV, we know that, don’t we? So what drives us is to use that almost as a masterpiece in international markets, to encourage people to come this summer.”

You are right that Britain’s heritage and history are a key factor in its massive £131 billion tourism industry, and is talked about around the world as the aspect most associated with the UK. But estate is not the same as royalty, and when pressed for figures on the value of royalty, Yates steps aside.

“We are very careful not to put a number on the value of having a real family,” she says. “But… does having a living monarchy make a difference? Well, of course you do, since you have the ceremonies and the constant pattern of family life, with weddings, baptisms, deaths and celebrations.

Visit Britain has attached a number before. A previous head of the organization claimed that the queen generated “more than £500m a year directly and indirectly from foreign tourists”, arguing ahead of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton that the event would further increase the sum.

The problem is that none of those claims hold up to scrutiny. Numerical claims about the value of the monarchy are often based on creative interpretation of the number of visitors to sites with some real, even tangential connection, says Graham Smith of the Republic, which campaigns to abolish the monarchy.

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Mugs in Windsor
Cups in Windsor as the town prepares for the coronation. Photography: Maureen McLean/Rex/Shutterstock

“If you look at the Tower of London, where royalty hasn’t lived for hundreds of years, it’s much, much more popular than Buckingham Palace,” says Smith. (Annual visits to the tower exceed 2m, compared to 121,000 to the palace). “So clearly it’s not living history that people are interested in, it’s history, and history never goes away. There is simply no evidence to suggest that people would not visit if [the royals] They weren’t there.”

Smith says large-scale events such as coronations can actually reduce visitor numbers, as VisitBritain has acknowledged at several royal weddings in the past. An in-depth analysis by Harvard University in 2016 concluded that hosts of so-called “mega-events” routinely “grossly overestimate” their economic benefits, and in terms of tourism, any positive effects are very short-lived.

Inbound’s Croft says that while “most countries in the world would kill to have a brand like the UK”, the association with history “also has its downside, which is that people don’t have a sense of urgency. . Because it’s based on history and heritage, you don’t need to come to the UK in 2023, because the history and heritage will still be here in 2024… so they often say ‘yeah, well, I’ll go next year. next, and this year I will go to Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos”.

That said, Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, says that “every destination in the world is reeling from the most traumatic period they’ve ever experienced, so they’re looking for that bit of differentiation to put themselves at the forefront of the minds of the people.”

What that means for British attractions is a flurry of activity between sites across the country that may have minimal connection to the coronation, he says. “A lot of my members go into their penthouses, look through their collections, and see how they can tell the story of their place in a way that’s connected to coronations and royalty. In the best way possible, everyone is jumping on a golden bandwagon.”

That might suggest that a crescent tide floats all ships; alternatively, it could be argued that there is no need for any current royal connection to benefit from nostalgia tourism.

That’s the experience of Tours International, which, for all the interest in its coronation-themed tours, sees royalty as only an attractive theme for its key North American market. The themed tours around Celtic Christianity are equally “huge”; so are literary figures like Shakespeare and the Brontës, says Bennett. “You’ve got the royal family, you’ve got the filming locations, whether it’s Downton Abbey, The Crown, you’ve got the castles and the stately homes.”

As for his other major market of French and German visitors, they will “avoid London at all costs” during coronation weekend, he says.

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