Last week the third in line to the British throne, Prince George, was crowned the most influential person in London by the Evening Standard newspaper. The list of 1000 influential people included actress Tilda Swinton, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, all of which the 8 week year old child casually beat. Despite Prince George’s short time in the world the people of London seem to value his royal status over that of revolutionary scientists, famous rock stars and respected religious figures. For decades it’s been assumed that his family has brought substantial profits to the country through their large benefits to UK tourism. A recent poll by Ipsos Mori showed that 75% if Britons are still supportive of the monarchy but skeptics believe their value of the family and young prince may be misplaced.
In 2011 a survey by EntsWeb, an entertainment and event management directory, found that only three of the royal residencies were in the Top 20 UK attractions. The Tower of London was beaten by Alton Towers, Windsor Castle was outdone by Legoland and Edinburgh Castle was overtaken by the Science Museum. UK newspapers have long argued the value for money of the royals, in years gone by some reported on the modest spending of the Queen and others commented on the outrageous costs of the family’s chartered flights. On the other hand, in 2012 The Daily Caller put things in to perspective by reminding readers that US taxpayers spent 20 times more on President Obama than the UK spent on the royal family.
Monarchist groups such as The British Monarchist Society argue that although the Royals have no formal role in modern politics they still attract tourists from miles around. The beauty of their many royal residences and their various traditional ceremonies are something that many cultures lack. The Diamond Jubilee, the Royal Wedding and the birth of the third heir to the throne are just a few of the great spectacles that are offered nowhere else in the world. All three were televised across the world often for weeks before the event happened, reflecting the immense interest in the family.
Visit Britain, a leading UK tourism site, claims that the ‘cultural heritage’ of Britain creates a profit of $7.2 billion from tourism a year. The company would not disclose the specific figure of profit that the royal residencies alone bring to the UK tourism but they argued that without the heritage of the royal family many tourists may not be persuaded to visit the UK. Mark Di-toro, a spokesman for Visit Britain argued that “Britain’s cultural references stretch back thousands of years. The monarchy is unique and something that we can use to promote Britain.” However, their own statistics showed that in 2012 only one Royal residence increased its percentage of total visits; Kensington Palace which was up by 41%.
Although many tourists love the glamour, tradition and general pomp of the British royal family, there are some anti-monarchy groups argue that the costs of the royal family outweigh the benefits that they bring to the country. Republic is a pressure group that campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy and the implementation of a head of state. The group views the monarchy as not only ‘an unaccountable and expensive institution’ but also ‘unrepresentative of modern Britain’. Graham Smith, the chairman of Republic, told NBC that although many tourism companies use the royal family to jump start their PR, “If we get rid of the monarchy there’s no evidence that the tourism will go down.”
According to the royal household, the Queen’s expenditure for the 2012/13 financial year was $53.2 million, a small price to pay for the revenue that Visit Britain claims the royal family makes a substantial contribution to. However, Republic estimated the actual expenditure of the royals at over $323.6 million. Their explanation of this huge miscalculation being that the royal household is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and therefore missed numerous costs. Republic’s estimations of the royal’s costs include, to name a few, 24/7 security, local councils visits by the Queen and lost revenue from the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall which alone amount to $261.6 million.
Thomas Mace Archer Mills, the chairman of The British Monarchist Society argues that you can’t put a monetary value on our history. “It’s not just economic impact that the royal provides” he says “it’s the fact that it is a political institution that has the binding value of bringing not just the people of this country together but the people of the world as a whole.” Mace Archer Mills goes onto tell NBC that that there’s not one corner of the earth that wouldn’t recognize the Queen’s face, “She is the UK’s greatest ambassador, she’s living history and a beacon of unity.” In this argument the economic influence of the monarchy is no match for the historical and traditional importance of the families reign.
The opinions of the British Monarchy’s influence on UK tourism vary widely between a complete economic loss, millions of dollars’ worth of tourism and invaluable history that has no monetary value. The facts and figures seem to vary depending on which institution collects the data and the confusion created by which attractions are deemed as ‘royal related interest’ and which are not. Although there’s still no clear answer to how much the British Monarchy really costs or benefits the UK, the unfounded statistics and research to how an 8-week-old Prince George became more influential than the founders of Help for Heroes, the most recent Tour de France champion and Boris Johnson are arguably much more dubious.