“It’s great to have a piece of unadulterated good news that everyone can celebrate,” Prime Minister David Cameron said after the couple announced their engagement in November. He then backed an investment of £50 million, or $80 million, to use the wedding and the Summer Olympic Games in 2012 to promote Britain as a tourist destination.
More than a million visitors are expected in London for the wedding, according to estimates from the capital’s official tourism agency, Visit London. If all attend the procession, the number would dwarf the 600,000 who lined the streets 30 years ago for the marriage of Prince William’s father, Prince Charles, to Diana Spencer.
With so many visitors, retailers could generate additional sales of £620 million, according to Verdict, an industry research firm.
But the rosy forecasts have failed to mask the question of how the British themselves, battered by rising unemployment and steep government spending cuts, will react to what almost certainly is to be an opulent celebration.
The royal family is expected to pay for the wedding parties and the bulk of the costs, but the government will have to pay for policing and road closures from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace along a route that will cover 2.25 kilometers, or 1.4 miles.
There is already criticism about the costs the government will bear during this period of austerity. One local council complained that it could not afford the paid public holiday the government decided to grant for the wedding.
Anti-royalists are especially incensed.
“If people lose their jobs and homes and there are cuts to local services, someone else’s wedding is not going to make a difference to how they feel,” said Graham Smith, campaign manager for Republic, a group that calls for the abolition of the monarchy.
New Scotland Yard declined to give its estimated cost for the wedding. The total cost of the wedding of Prince William’s parents in 1981 was estimated at about £30 million. It included a wedding dress with 10,000 hand-sewn pearls as well as 6,000 police and military officers to secure the couple’s even longer route from the palace to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Coincidentally, Britain had also just emerged from a deep recession back then as well and was eager for a feel-good event. Then as now, however, the economic impact is hard to measure.
Some economists say a royal wedding would be “helpful,” even if it does not prove to be as beneficial as the government expects.
“It’s like a good football tournament,” said Brian Hilliard, economist at Société Générale in London. “Hotels and catering spending will go up.”
For some businesses, the event has already had a positive impact. Tesco , Britain’s largest supermarket chain, started to sell a £16 replica of the dark blue dress by Isa London that Ms. Middleton wore to announce her engagement. It sold out online within one hour. QVC had a similar experience when it offered a ring that resembled the one Ms. Middleton received for her engagement.
“This is a major opportunity for us,” said Lucy Lowe, a Tesco spokeswoman. “We expect high demand for party foods as people celebrate at home in front of their televisions or do a barbecue in their gardens.”
Hotels have assembled packages. The Hyatt Regency offers “William and Kate: The Love Story” for £340, which includes a night at the hotel, a crown-jewel inspired cocktail, a box of Royal Wedding truffles and a tour pass to three London sights.
TUI, the German tour operator, is offering customers a guided “Will & Kate Royal Wedding Walk” whose name sounds more promising than its itinerary. It includes a visit to a London clothing store where Ms. Middleton once worked and to Mahiki, a nightclub frequented by the couple.
The Franklin Mint, which manufactures collectibles in the United States, is selling a $195 vinyl doll depicting Ms. Middleton in her engagement dress and plans to produce another doll once the wedding dress design is disclosed.
In Britain, Asda, the grocer owned by Wal-Mart , is selling tea mugs, and Aynsley China, a 236-year-old porcelain maker, has painted the royal couple’s smiling faces on plates, cups and coasters. Dartington Crystal, a glassmaker, expects its engraved champagne flutes to be a best seller and its royal wedding range to add at least a five-figure amount to its sales.
“Times are tough and this will act as a stimulus,” said Richard Halliday, marketing director at Dartington. “It will certainly make the first half better than it would have been.”
In some ways, it appears as if everyone hopes to make money from the royal wedding. At Paddy Power, a betting company, customers are betting on anything from the length of Ms. Middleton’s wedding dress train to where the couple will go on honeymoon. A more sinister bet is on their date of divorce.
There also are signs that many Britons plan to go somewhere else on what for them will be a four-day weekend. Monday, May 2, is already a public holiday.
Thomas Cook, the travel operator, said its bookings from British clients for April rose 35 percent in the past four weeks, and Ryanair, the budget airline, said bookings were up 65 percent for the period.
Catherine Baxter, a voice coach who lives within walking distance of the planned wedding procession, said she planned to rent her apartment to tourists. “It’s a good opportunity,” she said. “There’s a little part of me that will miss being part of this, but living in this area there will be so many tourists around.”
Some in the retail industry warned against seeing the royal wedding as a silver bullet to cure the ills of the British economy, which shrank in the fourth quarter of last year after four consecutive quarters of growth.
“It will certainly help the economy, but there is a danger that people get too hopeful,” said Neil Saunders, consulting director at Verdict. “It could be really difficult if retailers can’t sell all that merchandise they plan to sell.”