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LONDON — Not content with a lifetime of service to Britain, Queen Elizabeth II in her death is making a final contribution.
With the eyes of the world fixed upon the U.K. this week, experts predict a surge in domestic and international tourism lasting far beyond the official mourning period. Well-wishers are flocking to London. Retail sales of queen-related merchandise are going through the roof.
“It’s awful publicity, isn’t it?” said Sheela Agarwal, a professor of tourism management at Plymouth Business School, on the tragic circumstances for which global attention has turned to the U.K.
“But it is publicity.”
The queen’s coffin will depart Buckingham Palace Wednesday en route to Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster, where it will lie in state until the morning of her funeral on Monday.
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to travel to London to pay their respects, with accommodation already filling up fast and transport services heaving. It looks like boom time for the capital’s high streets and hospitality firms, which were hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“London will do well over the next few days,” said Kevin Kaley, director of consultancy firm Tourism UK and former chair of the Tourism Society.
A government official refused to estimate the number of people expected to visit London ahead of the queen’s funeral — “How long is a piece of string?” they shrugged — but noted the enormous interest across the U.K. in the historic events being witnessed.
After 70 years on the throne, the queen’s passing is a truly global news story, with media outlets from across the world feverishly covering the period of national mourning. A sea of cameras tracked the queen’s cortège as it traveled from Balmoral to Edinburgh. King Charles III and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, are now touring the U.K. ahead of the funeral, with every new visit attracting acres of press coverage.
“You couldn’t imagine what that would have cost you [in publicity],” Kaley said of Scotland’s wall-to-wall media coverage this week. He likened the exposure to Yorkshire’s hosting of a Tour de France stage in 2014, which led to a steep rise in visitors to the region. “You’ll get a market that hasn’t necessarily had that place on its radar particularly, but is awakened to it by seeing the scenery on TV,” he said.
For all the talk of an economic boost, there are, of course, significant caveats. London retailers Selfridges and Liberty closed, while a number of sporting and business events were canceled in the days immediately after the queen’s death. And there will be no automatic boost to the Treasury’s coffers, given the new king will not pay inheritance tax on his mother’s vast estate.
Also affected are consumer brands which bear the royal warrant, such as Heinz canned foods and the breakfast cereal Weetabix, allowing them to show a crest on their goods proving their status as official suppliers of the queen or other senior members of the bloodline.
The website for the association of warrant holders explains that once the grantor dies, the warrant “will become void, and the company or individual will have two years to discontinue the use of the royal arms in connection with the business.”
Will Calvert, director of the Windsor and Eton Brewery, which received the warrant in 2018 for providing its beers to the royal household, said the stamp is “important” to his business as “a badge of quality and approval.” He was sanguine about the prospect of losing the warrant following the queen’s death. “I’ll worry about that when I come to it,” he said.
But David Haigh, chair and CEO of consultancy firm Brand Finance, which carried out valuations of the monarchy’s economic contribution to the U.K., said the issuing of new royal warrants by King Charles III “is likely to be a boon for the brands which are fortunate to benefit from them.”
An immediate hit to the economy looms on Monday. The queen’s funeral will be a national holiday, with King Charles III’s coronation, likely to be held next year, expected to follow suit. Brand Finance estimate that each bank holiday costs around £2 billion in lost productivity.
However, the king’s glitzy coronation ceremony could bring an “economic boost” to Britain’s high streets and hospitality sector akin to the queen’s platinum jubilee, said Liz Sharples, a senior teaching fellow in marketing and tourism at the University of Portsmouth.
From a tourism perspective, experts say the coronation will provide yet more coverage of the U.K., its heritage, buildings and institutions. “It’s like a big, long advert on TV for reasons why you would go to London,” said Kaley, of the upcoming royal events.
In the streets around Buckingham Palace, the tourist trade is already thriving.
Michael Bloomberg from Lambert Souvenirs, which has a shop near popular London landmark Trafalgar Square, said the store had already sold out of products related to the queen by midday Friday.
Bloomberg predicted that demand would continue to surge until around a month after the queen’s funeral, when things would likely begin to settle down. But he added: “I think in the case of the queen, the items will be popular for a while, because she was so special.”
There’s traditionally been “very little interest” in products featuring the queen’s eldest son, he noted, but “now he’s king, it will no doubt pick up.”
Royal memorabilia associated with Queen Elizabeth II is also expected to increase in price, according to James Grinter, managing director of Reeman Dansie auctioneers.
“Princess Diana is still very much at the top of the list as far as high prices are concerned,” he said. “But now we’ve lost our dear queen, I think that will probably change.”
There is increasing interest from China in royal commemoratives such as Christmas cards signed by the late queen, Grinter explained. “Presumably that’s a sort of a kick-off from The Crown,” he said, in reference to the hit Netflix series on the royal family.
Brand Finance, which in 2017 estimated the capital value of the monarchy at £67 billion (much to the fury of outraged republicans, who argue the royal family are a net burden on the U.K. taxpayer), said a “significant part of the value of the monarchy accrues from the stability of the institution.”
“A smooth and orderly transition from one monarch to the next will enhance that stability, because there are no claimants to the throne other than Charles,” said Haigh, the company’s CEO, who led the 2017 report.
While recognizing the queen herself made a “vital contribution to the monarchy’s economic impact” by helping the U.K. “be seen as a stable and modern nation connected to its past,” Haigh said “our expectation [is] that the ongoing benefit to trade and international relations will remain mostly stable.”
The full extent to which the royal family contributes to U.K. tourism is a disputed topic, of course. But most experts argue a new monarch won’t deter people from visiting the U.K.
“Who the king is, is probably less important than having a king, and that’s probably less important than there being a monarchy and lots of wealth and pomp and nice buildings to go and see and it being in a historic place,” said tourism expert Kaley. “That’s probably a higher priority on anybody’s decision-making.”
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