We can’t put this any more clearly:
The monarchy is not good for tourism.
Here’s how we know.
- UK tourism is a major part of the UK economy, worth around £127bn a year.
- UK residents traveling within the UK and visitors from overseas spend billions of pounds on hotel bookings, visitor attractions, restaurants, theatre tickets and much much more.
- Overseas visitors alone add £28.4bn to the British economy.
There are countless organisations set up to support the industry and to promote Britain, its constituent countries and our large towns and cities as tourist destinations.
- The leading organisation, VisitBritain, claims that VisitBritain alone added as much as £951m to visitor spending in 2018.
- Tourism employs almost 10% of the UK’s workforce and attracted 40.9 million visitors to the UK last year.
None of this has anything to do with Britain having a monarchy. Yet still people claim the monarchy is good for tourism. According to a poll a few years ago as many as 80% of the British public believed the monarchy was important for tourism. And it’s not hard to see why this view is so widespread. Journalists looking for an easy story churn out the same old figures and statistics without stopping to look at them carefully. While companies jump on royal events in the hope of cashing in, reinforcing the perception that royalty means big money from tourists and customers.
- The Guardian reported Republic's freedom of information find.
And then there’s VisitBritain's claim, which has been debunked. In November 2010 William and Kate announced their wedding, which would be held the following year. VisitBritain responded by claiming that the event will be great for tourism. In their press statements they said the monarchy generates £500m a year in tourism revenue.
That simply isn’t true. And VisitBritain should have known it wasn’t true.
At the time Republic sent them a Freedom of Information request , asking for any internal documents relating to their press release. They sent us a memo from their research department to their press office pointing out that they had no evidence that the economy would be helped by a royal wedding.
Quite the opposite in fact. Their statistics showed that in 1981 and 1986, the years of the last two big royal weddings, tourism revenue fell.
The numbers don't add up
- Revenue from St Paul's cathedral in London was included in the £500m figure.
We then took a closer look at that £500m figure VisitBritain had put out. To get to that figure they added up the revenue of every single ticketed visitor attraction that had even the slightest connection to royalty past or present. There was no evidence provided to suggest any of that revenue was because of the monarchy, rather than an interest in history or the merits of the individual attractions.
VisitBritain stopped using the figure, but the £500m still does the rounds, being endlessly repeated as fact by journalists, businesses and fact checkers.
No impact on the economy
It’s worth also pointing out that while £500m might sound a lot it’s a tiny figure when compared to total GDP and Britain’s tourism industry. It’s actually smaller than the margin of error for calculating GDP, so even if it were lost to the economy the country wouldn’t notice.
- only represents 0.01% of the UK’s economy
- just 0.3% of income from Britain’s tourism industry
- 1.9% of the UK’s heritage tourism.
So even when attracting people to the UK for our history and heritage the royals just don’t make any difference.
In 2018 Republic sent another freedom of information request to VisitBritain asking for any data or research they might have that showed the impact of the monarchy on tourism. They couldn’t provide any.
Yet the tourism line keeps getting repeated even while it’s admitted there is no evidence.
Not part of Brand Britain
Some people claim that tourist agencies like VisitBritain can use the monarchy as a draw for tourists. They can, but they don’t.
A quick look at VisitBritain’s promotional campaigns shows very little or no use of royalty to promote Britain as a destination, with only a passing reference to palaces and castles when talking about heritage attractions.
Royal tourist attractions
- Chester Zoo is a more popular tourist destination than Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace.
According to figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions and the royal household’s own figures for their residences, Buckingham Palace is at best the 69th most popular attraction in the UK, Windsor Castle does better but is still only at number 18, behind Chester Zoo, Somerset House, Edinburgh Castle and the Botanic Gardens in Kew.
Kensington palace, which attracts visitors most of the year, comes in at 68 on the ALVA list. The Tower of London on the other hand is the 9th most popular destination in the UK and the royals haven’t lived there or had much connection with it for centuries.
Palaces and castles attract interest because of their history, not because of today’s royals. Get rid of the monarchy and Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle can be fully opened up to tourists all year, funding their own upkeep through ticket sales and offering a unique glimpse into Britain’s past.
Buckingham Palace is thought to contain one of the largest and most valuable art collections in the world, including the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings - yet it’s all hidden away. The palace has the potential in a republic to become a world class museum and gallery open all year round.
Tourism is irrelevant to the debate about the monarchy
These tourism claims aren't just untrue, they're also totally irrelevant to any discussion about the monarchy.
The monarchy is part of our constitution. It’s corrupt, secretive, bad for our politics and totally unprincipled. Saying we should keep it because of some money coming in from tourism is an amoral argument, it says we’re more concerned about doing what’s profitable than what’s right. The good news is that we can do what’s right without losing a single pound in national GDP. It's a fair bet that Britain becoming a republic would be such huge news it would attract more attention than any royal wedding ever has.
So don’t believe the tourism nonsense. It’s not true and it’s not relevant. We all welcome our overseas visitors with open arms, but what they enjoy doing on holiday should never be the basis of our democracy.
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