Kim Bourke will travel almost halfway around the world from her home in Australia to attend a London wedding she hasn’t even been invited to. She’ll have a lot of company.
About 1.1 million people will probably visit the British capital when Prince William and Kate Middleton get married on April 29, according to Visit London, the city’s official tourism agency. That’s going to boost spending in the city by as much as 50 million pounds ($80 million), pushing up hotel room rates and prompting residents to become part-time landlords.
“I want to be there for this rare event,” said Bourke, a 36-year-old Internet marketer from Melbourne who said she was already considering a trip to London when the marriage plans were announced. “As soon as the wedding date was announced, I booked my flight.”
Royal family spectacles, from coronations to anniversaries, help underpin a tourism market that generates about 115 billion pounds a year and frequently precede periods of economic growth. William and Middleton’s wedding, a public holiday, is likely to be the most-watched royal event since the 1981 marriage of the prince’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, which was also a national holiday.
Middleton will travel to Westminster Abbey by car for the ceremony. Husband and wife will then join a carriage procession past Parliament Square, Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and The Mall before ending up at Buckingham Palace, the official residence of William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. The two families will pay for the wedding, with the government covering costs such as security and traffic control.
The event couldn’t be more timely for the U.K., where gross domestic product contracted in the fourth quarter and government budget cuts may imperil a recovery from the longest recession on record. The increase in tourism, combined with extra food and drink bought by Britons hosting street parties and other gatherings for the celebrations, may add 620 million pounds to the U.K. economy, according to Verdict Research, a retail analysis unit of Datamonitor Plc.
Hotels are preparing to get the most out of the surge in visitors. A room at Hilton Worldwide Inc.’s Waldorf Hilton, a 15-minute walk from Westminster Abbey, will cost 349 pounds a night on the weekend of the event, according to the five-star hotel’s website. The same room is priced at about 269 pounds for a week earlier. The company’s hotels near Trafalgar Square and Green Park are fully booked for the period.
“Whenever there’s a huge surge in demand, which this will be, there will always be pressure,” said Miles Quest, spokesman for the British Hospitality Association. Homeowners renting out extra rooms will help reduce the squeeze on the 103,000 rooms available in central London, he said.
Londoners are listing apartments and spare rooms for the wedding weekend on websites such as Londonrentmyhouse.com and Gumtree, the U.K.’s equivalent of Craigslist.
Julia Young, 32, has set a price of 1,750 pounds a week for an apartment that’s a five-minute walk from Westminster Abbey. That’s more than double the average long-term rate for prime two-bedroom properties in the area, according to Savills Plc. She’s turning a study into a second bedroom for two weeks to increase the potential rent.
“It’s a negotiable figure, but it is a two-bedroom flat right in the center of things,” Young said. “That’s quite a deal.”
Londoners frequently turn into temporary landlords for big events that stretch hotel capacity. That’s a regular occurrence during the two weeks of Wimbledon, the city’s annual Grand Slam tennis tournament. Residents are already placing advertisements for the London 2012 Summer Olympics, asking for as much as 70 percent more than typical apartment rents.
“If someone has the right sort of property, they can come and name their price,” said Jane Ingram, head of Savills’s rentals unit. “For Wimbledon, you’re looking at three times as much as you would get on an everyday letting because it is a one-off.”
London has about 500,000 daily visitors on average, each spending approximately 67 pounds a day, according to Visit London. That increased by about 600,000 visitors during Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding.
Selling the Spectacle
At least that many will come this time, boosting the city’s economy by between 30 million pounds to 50 million pounds, Visit London said. The capital gets approximately 181 million one-day visitors a year and 25 million staying overnight. Around 14 million of those are from abroad.
The government is creating a marketing fund with the help of private business that will spend more than 100 million pounds promoting tourism around the royal wedding, Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th year on the throne and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The four-year marketing campaign aims to boost the number of international visitors by 1 million and increase tourism spending by 2 billion pounds.
Ivy Press, a Lewes, U.K.-based publisher, is producing a book that shows readers how to knit woolen dolls of William, Middleton, Queen Elizabeth II and a corgi dog. “Knit Your Own Royal Wedding,” which costs about 10 pounds, includes clothing designs for the figures with Middleton wearing a cream-colored, sleeveless dress with baby blue shoes.
The U.K.’s Royal Mint has produced five-pound coins to mark the occasion. The coins, which can only be used on Alderney, the most northerly of the British Channel Islands, cost about 10 pounds for the cheapest version and as much as 1,550 pounds for ones made of 22-carat gold.
Royal mania has inspired retailers including Tesco Plc, which offered a 16-pound replica of the designer dress Middleton wore when the engagement was announced on Nov. 16. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda supermarket chain is selling engagement mugs for five pounds, while an official collection wedding cup goes for about 35 pounds online. Sales of marriage merchandise may amount to 26 million pounds, Verdict Research said.
Airlines and tourism companies are offering royal-themed packages in London on the weekend of the wedding. TUI Travel Plc, Europe’s largest tour operator, promises a limited number of couples the “most romantic weekend of the year” at 295 euros ($400) a person in a three-star hotel.
“We’re very pleased with the response,” spokeswoman Alexa Heuner said. “There are still some places available, though you shouldn’t leave it too long.”
British Airways Plc, Europe’s third-biggest airline, is offering five-day vacation packages for the event costing more than $1,000 per person for a flight and a two-star hotel in north London. On Jan. 11, the London-based carrier’s cabin crew pledged not to call a walkout over pay, hours and perks that would disrupt wedding travel plans.
“We’ve seen bookings spike over the relevant wedding period,” British Airways spokeswoman Cathy West said. “U.S. interest has been high.”
The royal family already inspires tourists to spend more than 500 million pounds a year and as many as 4 billion people globally are expected to watch the wedding, according to Visit Britain, the tourism agency for the country. Young says she’s happy to spend the gains from her Westminster apartment rental elsewhere.
“Perhaps on a holiday to America,” she said. “The money will probably go towards a trip to Boston to see our family.”