Royal weddings in the United Kingdom are lavish affairs that hoteliers and tourism executives hope attract more visitors, but while the effects of swings in demand were significant in Windsor, they are often negligible in London.
REPORT FROM ENGLAND —Royal weddings in the United Kingdom always seem to raise huge interest, but sources said that doesn’t necessarily translate to a huge uptick in hotel demand in or around London.
The two sons of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince William—second in line to the British throne—and Prince Harry—sixth in line—both have walked down the aisle in the last few years. Prince William married on 29 April 2011, and Prince Harry married on 19 May of this year.
Prince William married Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey in the heart of London, while Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in Windsor, approximately 20 miles west of central London, and those geographies have resulted in pretty marked differences in hotel performance.
Data from STR, the parent company of Hotel News Now, for the two dates show that a mega-event such as a royal wedding hardly gets noticed in London in terms of significant changes to the three main hotel performance metrics, while in Windsor it does.
On 18 May, the eve of Prince Harry’s wedding, Windsor’s hotel occupancy rose 29.3% year over year to 86.9%, average daily rate jumped 10.8% to £189.66 ($247.74) and RevPAR rose 169.3% to £164.78 ($215.24). The following day, occupancy dropped 12.6% year over year to 76.7%, but an 89.1% ADR increase to £189.94 ($248.11) drove RevPAR up 65.2% the night of 19 May to £145.74 ($190.37).
Before the Harry-Meghan wedding took place, Mark Charlton, head of U.K. research at Colliers International, said a significant influx of demand can have lasting effects on a small market like Windsor.
“Events such as the royal wedding demonstrate that the High Street and casual dining scene still play an important role in the economy,” Charlton said. “We predict that if 100,000 people descend on Windsor … for the royal wedding, around £1.5 million ($1.97 million) could be spent in the town.”
That spend would have been on items such as lunch sandwiches and bottled water, not hotel spend, Charlton said.
Julia White, visitor manager at the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, said hotel performance surrounding the event was relative.
“A mixed bag really, depending on who you speak to and their location,” White said. “From those who had near enough 100% occupancy all the way to those who said, ‘It was not so good for us.’
“Those in the town center, the ones who were savvy and signed contracts early on, are pleased, but some held out for the best rates and came away a little disappointed,” White said. “Those on the outskirts did very nicely but perhaps did not get the very high occupancy rates they were anticipating, with some rooms even available on the Saturday.”
Figures from the RBWM said 110,000 people lined the streets of the town on the day of the wedding, which correlate to a financial bonus in Windsor of £1.65 million ($2.16 million) based on Charlton’s estimates.
White agreed that media coverage and warnings of crowding issues from both police and transport police did not help, but those who braved it enjoyed what White called “an incredible atmosphere, a party atmosphere in glorious weather.”
Sean Gleeson, managing director at the 118-room The Oakley Court in Windsor, said his property hosted some guests who wanted to be close to the procession.
“There was huge interest as soon as the (marriage) date was announced, and on the day the area was very busy,” Gleeson said. “We were not fully booked, but that was our strategy.”
Gleeson said rates had performed well during the day of and days leading up to the wedding, although his hotel did not go overboard in its celebrations beyond traditional English afternoon cream teas.
“Some hotels might take it a little further than necessary,” Gleeson said, whose hotel also housed the United Kingdom canoeing and rowing teams during the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“We did need to change our staffing a little. For example, the first taxis called on the wedding day from the hotel were at 4 a.m.,” Gleeson added, who agreed reports of huge demand published before the wedding date might have scared off some visitors.
While Windsor hoteliers might hope the market will become a more popular wedding destination as couples look to emulate Harry and Meghan, sources said the area has always been a favorite marriage destination thanks to its River Thames setting and royal history.
The Harry-Meghan wedding has had a positive impact for the area, but it has not caused a spike in weddings booked for The Oakley Court, according to Gleeson.
“We pace very well year in year out for weddings as it is, but there certainly has been more interest in Windsor since the wedding,” Gleeson said.
Other hotels involved in the wedding preparations have also seen demand increases, White said.
“(Tourism body) VisitBritain said Windsor is the most-visited daytrip destination outside of London, and this has only been buoyed by the wedding,” she said. “We are to have a record June and July in weddings at the Windsor Guildhall, which we run, and Coworth Park, a hotel part of the Dorchester Collection and where William and Harry stayed the night before, said it has seen a marked boost, too.
“The town remains absolutely buzzing, and Windsor Castle is at capacity on a daily basis. I have heard anecdotally international clients are asking specifically to visit St George’s Chapel, rather than the castle, which the chapel is part of.”
White said just shy of 8 million visitors come to Windsor every year, with 90% of them day visits, but that the numbers are rising since 19 May.
“Footfall to the city center is up 35% per week year on year, and retail and dining trading is up,” she said. “The amazing weather has helped, and the bunting is staying up all summer.”
Unfortunately for London hoteliers, the crowds gathered around Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace on the day of its royal wedding in 2011 did not seek accommodations, although as is normal in the capital plenty of other people did.
On 28 April 2011—the night before the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton—occupancy decreased 25.5% year over year to 58% in London, and despite a 9.9% ADR increase to £135.72 ($177.28), RevPAR declined 18.2% to £78.71 ($102.87). The following day, a Friday, London hotels saw occupancy decrease 17.4% to 61.3%, while ADR rose 21.2% to £131.48 ($171.84) and RevPAR was mostly flat (+0.1% to £80.66 ($105.42)).
STR analysts attribute the figures to be a normal weekend performance in one of the busiest cities on the planet. 2011 was also notable for an increase in London hotel supply, especially in the upper hotel segments.
Upper-upscale and luxury hotels opened or reopened following major renovations in the early part of 2011 or in late 2010 included the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel; Corinthia Hotel London; W London Leicester Square; The Four Seasons Park Lane; and The Savoy, now part of AccorHotels’ Fairmont flag.
At the time, VisitBritain, the U.K.’s official tourism agency, said approximately 600,000 international and 560,000 domestic visitors were in London on 29 April 2011, while business consultancy PwC said visitors “delivered a £107-million ($140 million) bonanza to London.”
White said the next royal wedding in Windsor will come on 12 October, when Princess Eugenie gets married. She is the second daughter of the Queen’s third child, Prince Andrew, and Sarah, Duchess of York, née Ferguson.
Sources said the crowds for that ceremony will not rival those at Harry’s wedding but will still see the town busy.