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“Just in terms of the tourism generated by events such as the Jubilee, the monarchy pays its way” – standard defence of the royals.


Britain only ranks 10th in the global tourism stakes and the majority of UK visitor attractions have nothing to do with the monarchy.


There is some proof that royal events stimulate tourism. For instance, the Royal Collection Trust, which manages public exhibitions staged in royal residences, reported that in 2017-18 some 1.48 million people visited Windsor Castle, yielding a million-pound increase (from £6m to £7m) in revenue, largely as a result of the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

In April 2011, when Price William married Kate Middleton, an additional 600,000 visitors came to London, 40% from abroad, resulting in an extra expenditure in the capital of £107m (source: Association of Leading Visitor Attractions). The Office for National Statistics also reported that April 2011 saw UK visitor numbers jump by 350,000 over the previous year, a fact attributed to the wedding.


On the other hand, the biggest visitor attractions in the UK are not the royal palaces. And royal weddings are episodic events which hardly form the basis for a sustainable tourism industry. In 2019 (pre-Covid) the biggest visitor attractions in the UK were the Tate Gallery, the British Museum, and the National Gallery – each with more than 5m visitors. In Scotland, the National Museum in Edinburgh clocked up 2.2m visitors. Even Chester Zoo got 2m – many more than Windsor Castle. The biggest draw in recent times was the London Olympics, which attracted some two million visitors over several weeks, dwarfing the one-day wedding of Kate Middleton.

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In fact, the UK (even with its monarchy) comes only 10th in the international tourism stakes, measured by visitor numbers. France comes top, with 89m visitors pre-Covid compared to the UK’s 39m. Spain clocks up 83m, Italy 62m, Turkey 46m and even Germany gets more than the UK. This might suggest that in terms of a financial return, precious investment funds might be channelled into better tourist infrastructure in Britain rather than the royal family per se.


There is also the question of whether any visitor impact from the monarchy is actually cost-effective. Public funding arrangements for the monarchy were changed by the Conservative-Liberal government in 2012, when a variety of existing payments were replaced by a single, consolidated “Sovereign Grant”. This was originally set at 15% of profits from the Crown Estate.

The Crown Estate is a property portfolio (including retail parks, shopping centres and offshore wind farms) currently worth around £14bn. It belongs to the monarch but is administered by semi-independent commissioners.

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The revenues go largely to the UK Treasury, in return for the monarch being exempt from taxation (though the Queen voluntarily pays income tax on her other assets). The current chief commissioner is a director of Lloyds Bank, which some consider a possible conflict of interest.

Recently, the Sovereign Grant was increased to 25% of Crown Estate profits, purportedly to finance the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace. The Sovereign Grant for 2021-22 is £86.3m. It is only fair to note that the majority of expenditure goes on property maintenance.


However, there is a legitimate question regarding the sheer scale of the royal housing estate. There are currently some 23 official royal residences – seven occupied by the Queen, five by the Price of Wales, and the rest by assorted family members. There are 10 royal residences in London alone.

While state funding would obviously be required to house any head of state, it is open to question whether the amount of public funding that goes to cover so many royal residences is entirely justified.

Again, to be strictly accurate, the Queen has substantial wealth of her own, the so-called Privy Purse. She owns some 18,000 hectares of land, including the Balmoral and Sandringham estates, which are not part of the Crown Estate proper. According to the leaked Paradise Papers, her private estate (aka the Dutchy of Lancaster) transferred some £10m into offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda between 2004 and 2005, for investment in private equity funds.

The Queen has used some of her private wealth to support royal duties and members of the royal family (including paying Prince Andrew’s out of court settlement to Virginia Giuffre). However, the opaqueness of her asset holdings leaves the monarchy open to the charge that she still avoids her full tax responsibilities.


Despite immense coverage in the print media and BBC regarding the Queen’s 70-year Jubilee, there is evidence that the bulk of the UK is unexcited by the event.

A poll conducted by YouGov at the start of May found that 54% of Britons were uninterested in the Jubilee – 29% were “not very interested” and 25% “not at all”. Which suggests the tourism impact of the celebrations might be exaggerated by the media.

Another recent opinion poll found that support for the monarchy as a whole has fallen from 75% of the population to 60%, in only the past decade. Some 25% are in favour of its outright abolition. Abroad, we have seen Australia’s new Labour government appoint a “minister for the republic” – suggesting a referendum on the future of the monarchy might be in train.


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No-one denies the royals attract some visitors to the UK, but it remains open to question whether the public money could be spent to better effect.