By KELVIN CHAN, AP Business Writer
LONDON (AP) – Royal fans have flocked to the heart of London to witness the flag-lined streets, pompous processions and most importantly, brave a mile-long line for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth II. , who died after an unprecedented seven decades on the throne. And while they’re here, they’re packing hotels, restaurants, and businesses.
Visitors flocking to central London from as far afield as the US and India for this historic moment are giving business a boost as the UK economy faces a cost-of-living crisis, fueled by the highest inflation in four decades and forecasts of a looming one Recession.
“That’s the story, you know, that happens once in a lifetime,” said Kanakkantt Benedict, who was visiting from India with his wife and walked past the flag-draped coffin of the Queen this week. “So we became a part of it.”
The pomp and pageantry leading up to the funeral of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch underscored the power of the royal family as a global attraction, from a lavish military procession for her crowned coffin that drew live viewers around the world, to flower piles marking the Green Park, near Buckingham Palace, and gift shops hastily handing out souvenirs commemorating the Queen’s life filled as people clamor for memorabilia.
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Hundreds of thousands are expected to pay tribute to the Queen in the four days that her body lies in state ahead of her state funeral on Monday, spurring demand for central London hotel rooms, which in some cases have doubled in price.
Hundreds of world leaders, from US President Joe Biden to Japan’s Emperor and Empress, and their entourage need shelter when they arrive for the Queen’s funeral. Likewise, police officers come from all over the UK to help with security.
Occupancy could reach an all-time high of 95%, according to London-based group booking platform Hotelplanner.com.
“This is not surprising considering the eyes of the world are truly on the capital and the media, dignitaries and members of the public just like me who just want to be a part of such a historic event,” said Thomas Emanuel, Senior Director of the hotel analysis company STR.
All 35 rooms of the two-star Hotel Corbigoe in London’s Victoria district near Buckingham Palace are fully booked, said duty manager Riaz Badar.
“Nowadays, rooms in this area are full, not only in our hotel but in all hotels in this area,” Badar said.
The Riverside Cafe on the Thames, which sits next to the mile-long 24-hour line where people can get a glimpse of the Queen’s coffin, has been “extremely busy,” said manager Zab Istanik. It’s open two hours earlier than normal, at 7 a.m
“We were so busy when the Queen Mum passed away in 2002. But it wasn’t as busy as today…this week,” Istanik said.
Also on the route was Jason Rich’s food stand, Fed By Plants, selling lentil burgers.
“It’s a long line,” Rich said. “So it’s definitely given the business a good boost.”
The UK has already been an attractive destination as demand for international travel picks up again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the weaker pound makes transatlantic travel more affordable, particularly for American visitors.
University professor Chad Broughton, 51, who arrived in London from Chicago with two friends after a long pandemic delay, said his hotel room in the tourist-heavy Covent Garden area was pricey at £400 ($456) a night.
But the trip to London was unique. “When you see all these people in line, see the reaction on the BBC and just feel that, you get a sense of how important it is to people here,” he said.
Plus, the price drop offset the cost, friend Josh Walsman said.
“We found that everything has quite a surprising value,” said Walsman, a 51-year-old musician, as they walked past Westminster Hall, where mourners paid homage to the Queen inside and tourists snapped photos outside on streets closed to traffic.
Walsman said they went to a Champions League football game, had tickets to a play and a dinner reservation at Cinnamon Club, an upscale Indian restaurant.
“We mainly spent our money in pubs,” he said. “The conversion rate has meant that every time a bill comes through, it’s like, ‘Oh, I thought it was like 30% more.'”
The pound briefly fell to a 37-year low against the dollar on Friday after UK retail sales fell more-than-expected in August – a fresh sign of economic weakness.
The UK economy is suffering from rising energy prices spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine, triggering the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation. The government said it will cap energy bills for households and businesses, but prices are still painfully high. Inflation is the highest in the Group of Seven economies at 9.9%.
Against this background, the money spent by the visitors offered a glimmer of hope.
“If we speak to our hospitality industry, not just our hotels but restaurants, bars and pubs, they’ve had a terrible three years because of this pandemic,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
Budget hotel operator Travelodge said it ordered extra breakfast supplies for its 78 London hotels for Monday and expects many mourners to start their day with a “traditional English” breakfast. Pub chain JD Wetherspoon says it will keep its central London pubs open Monday during the Queen’s funeral.
Some analysts predicted that the UK’s macroeconomic recovery would be limited by the royal mourning period. That’s because supermarkets, retailers, hardware stores and other businesses would close for Funeral Monday, which was declared a public holiday.
However, renewed interest in the royal family could give the travel and tourism industry another boost, said Tim Hentschel, co-founder and CEO of Hotelplanner.com.
“Yes, in the short term, the bank holiday will probably take a bit of a toll on productivity,” Hentschel said. But “the overall momentum that Britain will gain from all the tourism that will pour here over the next few days and then the next few months will far outweigh the short-term loss.
AP journalists Kwiyeon Ha, Jeffrey Schaeffer and Tian Macleod Ji contributed from London.
Follow AP’s coverage of Queen Elizabeth II at https://apnews.com/hub/queen-elizabeth-ii.
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