By Neil Unmack
LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Britain’s costly royal wedding is worth every penny. The marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle on Saturday could leave taxpayers out of pocket by as much as 30 million pounds. But if the transatlantic union lures even a small number of extra American tourists to the United Kingdom, the expense can be easily recouped.
The marriage of the former soldier to the star of the TV drama “Suits” certainly looks expensive, particularly for the nearly one-in-five British citizens who say they would like to see the monarchy abolished. Though the total bill is a secret, wedding planner Bridebook estimates it at 32 million pounds. True, the royal family will cover the cost of flowers, cakes, and the like. But the bulk of the outlay is extra security to protect the Queen’s grandson, his bride, and their relatives and guests.
That’s not much compared to what it could bring in, however. It’s hard to imagine a better campaign to promote tourism than footage of the American actress and the Queen’s grandson driving around Windsor in a horse-drawn carriage. In 2016, the latest year for which data is available, U.S. citizens made about 1.56 million tourist trips to the United Kingdom, and spent about 1.43 billion pounds, according to VisitBritain.
If the royal wedding leads to a mere 2 percent increase in the number of visits by U.S. tourists, the extra income would exceed the costs. Alternatively, existing American visitors could subsidise the nuptials if, on average, they spend an additional 20 pounds on ceremonial mugs, biscuit tins or other royal memorabilia. Still, if appealing to tourists was Harry’s main motivation, he could have done even better by choosing a Chinese bride. Though Britain attracted just 120,000 visits from the People’s Republic in 2016, those tourists spent more, on average, than their U.S. counterparts.
The wedding should also help shore up Britain’s shrinking soft power. The political chaos prompted by the decision to leave the European Union has damaged the country’s image overseas. Prince Harry’s choice of bride shows the world that even an institution as old as the royal family is open to change. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of positive publicity.
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