As urban tourism continues its pandemic-era comeback, among the cities where travelers are setting their sights is London, a perennially popular destination for Americans that’s also getting a boost from the upcoming coronation.
The London Convention Bureau said tourism levels in the city are close to but not quite exceeding 2019 numbers, though that is expected to change in the coming weeks.
“We have just over 3.1 million Americans who visit London, and we’re almost at the same level, prepandemic,” said Tracy Halliwell, director of tourism, conventions and major events for the bureau. “The only thing that’s stopping it from coming back to 2019 levels are the flights.”
She added that the city expects the visitor numbers to rival if not surpass prepandemic numbers once routes have been restored.
According to Cirium flight-schedule data, airline seat count for the six commercial London airports is 8.4 million in April, down 7.7% from the same period in 2019. Seat count into London during the summer months, from June 1 to Aug. 31, is scheduled to be down 3.7%.
Forward Keys, a company that tracks and analyzes travel industry trends, found that international visitors who traveled to London by air in the first quarter of the year reached 77% of Q1 2019 levels.
“Looking at flight bookings for the second quarter as of April 5th, the latest available data, they are currently 7% behind 2019 levels, with the strongest source markets to be Germany, 20% ahead; the USA, 11% ahead; and Ireland, 8% ahead,” said Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys.
King Charles’ coronation
Of particular interest to Americans traveling to London this spring is the coronation of King Charles III, which is set to take place on May 6 at Westminster Abbey. It will be the U.K.’s first coronation of a sovereign in 70 years, and demand is surging among travelers who want to be in London for the event.
“The coronation is proving to be a particularly popular draw for passengers from the USA,” Ponti said. “Looking at flight bookings over the period April 27 to May 8, we are seeing a 10% spike compared to the equivalent period in 2019. The most enthusiastic cities, where the uplift in bookings has been greatest, are Denver, 48% ahead; Houston, 45% ahead; and Miami, 37% ahead.”
The day tour industry in London is also doing well, Halliwell said, and suppliers are meeting the growing demand. New attractions and activities have been added to traditional London sites like Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London; at the latter, Halliwell said, American travelers typically account for about 45% of ticket sales during royal events.
London hotels are largely booked for coronation week, said Camilla Davidson, head of destination management of the U.K., France & Ireland for Red Savannah.
“Anything that revolves around the royals is always a key focus,” said Stephanie McClendon, Europe team leader for Scott Dunn, an operator of luxury and custom tours.
But not all London tourism centers on the monarchy. McClendon said there’s also a strong demand for World War II tours and sightseeing opportunities.
“Recently, everyone has been wanting to go to the Churchill War Rooms. I’ve always had a fascination with World War II, and I know a lot of people do, but it’s actually something that has been coming up a lot recently without me even suggesting it,” McClendon said.
And she mentioned market and neighborhood tours: Camden Market, Borough Market and the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. “That’s something that is a little bit more interesting, to get away from those super touristy sites and to get more into a local scene,” she said.
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