Now that the weekend hoopla of the Harry-Meghan Royal Wedding is behind us, reality bites are already coming in from different quarters. The big fat Royal Wedding last Saturday was expected to give the Brexit hit British economy a big boost. However, while most media reports have been glowing and positive, there is a constituency of analysts who believe that the royal nuptials were nowhere close to the predicted boon for the British economy that had been hoped for.
The much touted Brand Finance Report released earlier this year had estimated a US$ 1.4 billion (GBP 1.03 billion) uptick to the British economy as a result of the Royal Wedding. As per Brand Finance, GBP 300 million was to come from increase in tourism; GBP 300 million was to come from the enhanced global PR for ‘Brand Britain’; GBP 250 million was estimated from retail and restaurant sales.
‘The Meghan Effect’ was expected to bump up the fashion industry by GBP 150 million. And pretty pictures of the couple on all kinds of merchandise was expected to clock in GBP 50 million.
The church bells have hardly stopped chiming, and the nay-sayers are already out with their knives. Past records show that grand royal events are over-hyped and almost always fall short of the projections of big bucks business that they are expected to bring in.
According to the UK Office for National Statistics, the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton did not result in a noticeable uptick for the economy. PwC estimated William and Kate's wedding generated roughly GBP 107 million (US$ 145 million) in extra spending which is actually less than 4 per cent of the amount spent in the UK on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.
In the last Royal Wedding, most workers were given an extra day off and the negative hit to the economy was estimated at GBP 1 billion. So, in the net analysis, the economy actually lost more than it gained. More importantly, if history were to repeat itself, past ONS data shows that while retail sales spiked in April 2011, they fell the following month. Hence, any splurge in spending this month because of the Royal Wedding may be followed by a slump in June.
The only real barometer, the visible positive impact of the Royal Wedding can be best judged from news from the traditional English pubs. UK parliament allowed pubs to remain open through to 1 am on Friday and Saturday, as opposed to the usual 11 pm because of the wedding.
The British Beer & Pub Association has estimated that sales were GBP 20 million, or about 8% higher than a normal weekend. But again, there are those who say how much of the extra drinking was on account of the wedding will be hard to judge because one of the UK's biggest annual sporting events -- the FA Cup soccer final -- fell on the same day. They further add that the small boost in beer sales could well have been offset by those who chose to stay home and watch the event on television, instead of going out and spending money on other activities.
If one were to look at statistics from the last Royal Wedding, there was no significant boom in tourist arrivals. The number of people arriving in the UK in April 2011 was near constant. On the other hand, roughly 500,000 Brits took advantage of the extra day off to sneak a short holiday abroad. A similar pattern seems to be visible in the current Royal Wedding. There hasn't been a noticeable rise in the number of flight bookings to the UK for the wedding, according to travel experts. Analysts expect that any spike in visits from royal fans will be counteracted by the desire of other tourists to stay far away from the crowds.
For those who were convinced that the Royal Wedding was more hype than substance, this week’s YouGov poll further suggested that the proportion of Britons who were uninterested in the Royal Wedding had increased to 66 per cent. The same poll suggested that rather than being glued to the Royal Wedding coverage, fully 60 per cent of people in the UK carried on with their weekend as normal. Only 27 per cent of people – fewer than one in three – tuned into something to do with the Royal Wedding coverage.
When Harry's brother Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011, the total cost of the Royal Wedding came to US$ 34 million. Bride Book estimated that Saturday's Royal Wedding cost US $ 45.8 million. Security at William and Kate's wedding cost US$ 8.7 million, including US$ 4.9 million in overtime pay for the police force. The Thames Valley Police may have ended up being less expensive this time around, because Harry and Meghan got married in Windsor instead of London. All of this is cost to the British exchequer, with no real benefits.
This blog is not intended as a dampener on the euphoria generated by the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex. It is only an attempt to table the other side of the story. News media has obviously gone a little overboard on the Royal Wedding (this is the last of the series for this generation of the Windsors, the next with little Prince George may be a quarter of a century from now) with everything looking and smelling so good. Actual statistics do not paint quite as rosy a picture. May be the expectations are pegged a bit too high.
There is certainly a huge pull that the British monarchy has, not just in its home country but in all such geographies where the British once ruled. Also, the British queen is far more visible in media than the rulers of say Bahrain or Belgium or Bhutan. Except for the royal household of Japan who do get reasonable media attention, the British monarchy has almost a global fan club. Hence, a Royal Wedding is a big event.
In fact, anything to do with the British monarchy has got prime time media attention and top media billings over the years. Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 was the first televised crowning of a British monarch and attracted worldwide attention. Prince Charles getting married to Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July, 1981 was the pinnacle of monarchy hysteria. The media again went into over-drive when Prince William was born in 1982. The media raved about Queen Elizabeth when she celebrated the 40th anniversary of her ascension to the throne in 1992. But the same media also blew up both the divorces of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1992, and Prince Charles and Diana in 1996. Media attention on the House of Windsor peaked again when Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011; when Prince George was born in 2013; when Princess Charlotte was born in 2015; when Prince Louis was born earlier this year; when Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 60th year on the British throne in 2012.
The glitter and glamour around the Royal Wedding has perhaps been a bit over estimated. Surely there will be a blip in the economy. But the up-side has been more emotional than rational. In the final analysis, all of this may not really matter but sometimes taking stock is good for a reality check. No?
(Sandeep Goyal loves the UK, and the British monarchy. The Royal Wedding fascinated him, despite all the negatives listed above.)