Britain braces for crush of tourists

Prince William and Kate Middleton pose for an official engagement photo in November 2010....

Prince William and Kate Middleton pose for an official engagement photo in November 2010. (Reuters/Handout)

LINDA WHITE, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:30 PM ET

Blimey! Watching Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows on the telly just isn't enough. What's a fan of the royals to do? Why, join the hundreds of thousands expected to flock to the couple's home turf to line the wedding processional route, of course.

"Ever since the royal engagement was announced and the wedding date was disclosed, interest in travelling to Britain has continued to grow," says Ted Flett of VisitBritain, Britain's national tourism agency.

International Passenger Survey figures used to determine just how many visitors will travel to London for the nuptials won't be available until after the wedding. "Anecdotally, the interest level has been very high," says Flett, pointing to traffic to VisitBritain via Facebook and Twitter.

Some online-travel sites, airlines and hotels are reporting dramatic jumps in bookings for the wedding period. The couple will be married on Friday, April 29, which has been declared a national holiday.

"The United Kingdom - and London, in particular - has always been a favourite overseas travel destination for Canadians and the Royal Wedding has generated some added excitement and interest in travel to Britain," says Sean Shannon, managing director of Expedia Canada.

"The wedding weekend is certainly a popular one and we've seen sustained interest in getting to the U.K. since the event was announced," he says. U.K. Expedia has seen nearly five times the usual amount of bookings to London within the first couple of months after the wedding was announced on Nov. 23, Shannon reports.

It's not too late to be among the throngs eager to catch a glimpse of the happy couple. Expedia.ca, for instance, is offering one-week vacation packages for about $1,300 a person. Its dedicated Royal Wedding portal features a variety of deals.

Certainly, William and Kate are a marketer's dream, thanks to their wide appeal. "They're modern, they go to nightclubs, they're outdoorsy and that gives us a chance to talk about all of these activities on offer to Canadians," says Flett. "Kate shops on High Street, which is very accessible. They are a cutting-edge, modern couple and that's appealing to Canadians."

While London is reaping the rewards of the wedding, it will share the long-term impact of the union across Britain. The couple met at St. Andrews University in Scotland and will live in North Wales, where the Prince is serving with the Royal Air Force - giving those destinations extra cache as tourist destinations.

The timing of the wedding in the year before the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen and London's hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is described by VisitBritain as a "happy coincidence," with the publicity around the marriage creating a "halo effect" that will carry over to next year's celebrations.

Kensington Tours has created Royal Wedding experiences - all with a private guide - so visitors can enjoy the pomp and circumstance firsthand and bypass lines at popular attractions like Westminster Abbey.

"Most of us followed recent British history with Princess Diana," Kerstin Sowden, regional manager for Europe, says of the wedding's appeal. "Over the last 30 years we've watched William grow up and it's so exciting to see him get married."


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