Thousands of visitors flocked to London to pay their last respects to Queen Elizabeth II, giving the city’s tourism sector a major boost.
And with the state funeral setting record numbers for broadcasts around the world, the UK could be in for another much-needed rush of visitors, according to a royal expert.
Viewership figures for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral may never really be known – in Australia, TV viewership peaked at 3.46 million Tube viewers, although media reports put the figure at more than four billion viewers worldwide, but even official TV -Ratings only tell a fraction of the story.
However, the impact of previous major royal events on British tourism is well documented.
dr Cindy McCreery, Head of Modern Monarchy in Global Perspective Research Hub and Lecturer in History at the University of Sydney, found a clear link between past royal events and an increase in foreign visitor numbers to royal landmarks.
“The wedding of Charles and Diana at St Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1981 had a major boost in tourism not only to London but to St Paul’s specifically,” McCreery said.
This peak of interest in royal landmarks following a major royal event could be further enhanced by proposed changes to the royal residences that would make visiting easier for international tourists.
“Traditionally, Buckingham Palace was only open to visitors for two months in July and August – when the Queen was at Balmoral – and that will change,” McCreery said.
“King Charles has said that he wants to open the royal residences more to public access so that tourists can visit Buckingham Palace more easily than at the moment.”
The changes are believed to extend to Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral, Sandringham and Clarence House, with plans to make them available for longer periods of the year and with more rooms available.
This includes plans to extend Sandringham’s visiting hours from the current April to October window to all year round.
McCreery noted that the historic sites that featured prominently in the late monarch’s funeral procession will be of particular interest.
“People will have seen Westminster Hall, they will have seen Westminster Abbey, they will have seen St George’s Chapel and they will think, ‘Maybe I’ll go see it,'” she said.
Patricia Yates, chief executive of Britain’s national tourism organization Visit Britain, said research had shown that exploring British history and heritage was the top motivator for international visitors.
“We inspire people to book a trip to see for themselves our world-renowned attractions, culture, heritage and history and, as we celebrate the coronation of King Charles III. lifelong experiences that can only be had in the UK,” she said.
McCreery said there is a particular interest in the younger members of the royal family, fueled by players including Prince William and Kate Middleton, as well as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
“These are very photogenic, beautiful people that people love to learn more about. I think every opportunity people have to learn more about their lives, about the places they visit, will help tourism,” she said.
Ticketing revenue for British royal residences was around £50m ($85m) in 2019, with Windsor Castle and Frogmore House, Harry and Meghan’s home at the time, being among the most popular residences.
The King-led tourism push comes as Britain’s tourism sector struggles to attract international visitors on the same scale as its European neighbors.
According to the latest arrivals from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for July 2022, the UK was the third largest outbound destination for Australians that month with 66,480 trips – around 71 per cent of 2019 levels. It is followed by New Zealand (96,180) and Indonesia (86,160).
Since Australia’s travel restrictions were lifted in January 2022, the UK has seen an exponential surge in recovery from the Australian market, with flight bookings from Australia often exceeding pre-pandemic levels, according to Visit Britain.
The UK’s delay in recovery has been attributed to a combination of the pandemic and policy setbacks, including rising COVID rates just as neighboring countries were stabilizing late last year and the impact of Brexit finally being felt.
Last month Visit Britain presented a revised 2022 tourism forecast of £21.6 billion ($36.8 billion) in visitor spending for the year – around 76 per cent of 2019 levels.