Outside the Palace of Westminster in the heart of London, hundreds of police officers and security guards guide millions of mourners into Westminster Hall, where the Queen is lying in state.
“The Queue” to see the Queen before her funeral snakes west of Westminster Abbey, crosses Lambeth Bridge and then stretches five miles east along the Thames river—a walk that under normal circumstances would take two hours but in the queue will take up to 14.
It is expected to continue through day and night until the morning of Monday, Sept. 19, when the coffin will be taken in procession from the Palace of Westminster to Westminster Abbey, where the state funeral will take place.
As people flock from around the globe to pay respect to Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, there has been an unprecedented surge of tourists in London. While the Queen’s procession and funeral will only last for four days, the occasion is expected to create a windfall in tourism that may last for years to come.
“Positive coverage of the royal family…has got long-term spinoffs for tourism,” Sheela Agarwal, a professor of tourism management at Plymouth Business School, tells Fortune. “It sparks a huge interest in the monarchy, in the royal family, and anything to do with the monarchy over thousands of years so there are potentially great spinoffs from this.
“For many people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event…they haven’t known any other monarch than the queen,” says Agarwal, who expects a surge in both international and domestic visitors.
Vienia Saron traveled from Sao Paolo, Brazil, to pay respect to the Queen, arriving Thursday morning and heading directly from the airport to the queue. “I am so tired,” she tells Fortune. “It will be worth it. She is not just important to England. She is important to the whole world.”
Many of those who traveled to London did so to play part in what they see as a historic event. Across her 70-year reign, the Queen held a unique position in many people’s lives.
More tourists in London mean more people booking long-term accommodation, eating at restaurants, traveling on the tube, and flowing into pubs.
Sea Containers, a five-star hotel located just behind the Southbank skate park, has seen a noticeable uptick in reservations.
On Thursday, the hotel had filled 94% of its 359 rooms, and is expected to stay at this level of occupancy until Monday. Anne, a front desk worker at the hotel, told Fortune that before the Queen passed, occupancy hovered around 80%.
“We’ve definitely seen a decrease in availability,” Anne told Fortune, adding, “I’ve taken calls with people asking me if they have a view of the funeral.”
Since the announcement of the Queen’s death, the average price for a hotel night in London increased from $244 to $384, Hayley Berg, lead economist at travel startup Hopper, told Reuters.
High-end hotels around London like Claridge’s, the Connaught, The Dorchester, and the Berkeley are also all booked out until Sunday night, their websites showed.
Pubs and restaurants are also likely to see a windfall from the increase in foot traffic. One resident who lives south of the river has gone as far as to create “a map of all the decent pubs en route (or very close to it)” so mourners can have a pint on the way to see the Queen.
For Londoners and tourists alike, transport has been delayed and canceled. Network Rail, the Rail Delivery Group, and Transport for London all warned travelers to expect crowded services and congested stations for the next few days—advising passengers to consider walking to their destinations if possible.
Meanwhile, flights to London have seen a significant increase in interest and price. Within the hour of the announcement of the Queen’s death, flight searches to London from the U.S. rose 49% compared with the previous day, according to travel booking site Hopper. The average price for a round-trip flight from the U.S. to London surged from around $710 to more than $1,000 between Sep. 15 and Sep. 17, Hopper reports.
In addition to high prices, tourists booking last-minute trips to London will also face disruptions at London airports. Heathrow and London City Airports have announced they are cutting services and canceling hundreds of flights on Monday to ensure they don’t disrupt the two minutes of silence during the funeral.
A country desperate for tourism
The influx of tourism is welcome at a difficult economic time for Britain. Restaurants, pubs, and museums that are just returning to activity post-pandemic are being hit with the worst cost-of-living and energy crisis in decades.
“Many hotels and hospitality event businesses have been really severely impacted by COVID, and they are currently having to face reducing disposal income because of the cost-of-living crisis and the rise in costs,” Agarwal tells Fortune.
“This is a good opportunity to recoup, catch up, and restabilize their businesses,” she says, adding that she expects a second bump from the coronation of King Charles next year.
Whether King Charles can maintain the popularity of the Queen is unclear, and there has been increasing anti-monarchy pushback since the Queen’s death.
But these doubts are largely absent in the queue, where people express hope that the monarchy will reign for the foreseeable future as a representative of British unity and culture.
Waiting to pay his respect to the queen, local TV personality Liam “Gatsby” Blackwell, from the scripted reality show The Only Way Is Essex, expressed his love for the royal family and his excitement about the new King.
“My cousin’s here from Korea, but he lives in L.A. I took him here with me because I wanted to show him English culture,” Blackwell told Fortune.
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