x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hotels, landlords expect surge for royal wedding

More than 1 million visitors expected to boost tourism in London for royal wedding

LONDON _ 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 would boost spending in the city by as much as $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, 36, an 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 $182 billion 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.

After the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the royal couple will join a carriage procession past Parliament Square, Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and The Mall to 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 Britain, 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 $983 million to the economy, according to Verdict Research, a retail analysis unit of Datamonitor.

Hotels are preparing to get the most out of the surge in visitors. A room at Hilton Worldwide's Waldorf Hilton, a 15-minute walk from Westminster Abbey, will cost $553 a night on the weekend of the event, according to the five-star hotel's Website. The same room is priced at about $426 for a week earlier.

Miles Quest, spokesman for the British Hospitality Association, said that homeowners renting out extra rooms will help reduce the squeeze on the 103,000 rooms available in central London.

Londoners are listing apartments and spare rooms on Websites such as Londonrentmyhouse.com and Gumtree, Britain's equivalent of Craigslist.

Julia Young, 32, is asking $2,773 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. 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 such as Wimbledon. 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 $106 a day, according to Visit London. That increased by about 600,000 visitors during Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding.

At least that many will come this time, boosting the city's economy by between $48 million to $79 million, 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 $158 million 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 $3.1 billion.

Wal-Mart Stores's Asda supermarket chain is selling engagement mugs for $8, while an official collection wedding cup goes for about $55 . Sales of marriage merchandise may amount to $41 million, Verdict Research said.

Airlines and tourism companies are offering royal-themed packages in London on the weekend of the wedding.

The royal family already inspires tourists to spend more than $792 million a year, and as many as 4 billion people globally are expected to watch the wedding, according to Visit Britain, the nation's tourism agency.