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Flat-lining UK economy to get royal baby boom

By Associated Press in London | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-13 08:15

Collectibles to be sold; more tourists expected

British officials are hoping that the impending royal birth will produce a bouncing baby buoy for the economy.

With the Duchess of Cambridge due to give birth to an heir to the throne next month, it's time for citizens and groups to consider how to best mark the moment.

Happy occasions often boost consumer confidence, sparking a spring in the step that leads right to the shopping mall for street party snacks, summer frocks and suntan lotion. And happy national occasions with the royal family and a new heir hit an emotional jackpot in Britain - boosting national pride along with tea, cakes and commemorative china.

"Royal fever is more intense now, actually," said Pauline Maclaran, a professor of marketing and consumer research at Royal Holloway and the co-author of Tiaras, Tea Towels and Tourism: Consuming the British Royal Family, which will be published by the University of California Press. "At a time of crisis, when there is financial depression, people look for something to lift themselves."

Britain really could use some consumer confidence right now. The economy is so flat no one has any idea how to pick it up. It grew last quarter at the less-than-stunning rate of 0.3 percent.

But trend watchers say the royal birth is being seen as the country's latest installment of "Big Events".

First, in April 2011, there was the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, an extravaganza of horse-drawn carriages, breast-plated soldiers and white lace gowns. Then came the June 2012 Jubilee flotilla down the River Thames - a procession of some 1,000 highly decorated boats, all honoring Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne.

Within months, London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics, kicking it off with a flag-waving, torchlit procession celebrating every scenic bit of the island nation, from Land's End in the west to the Scottish village of John o' Groats in the north. The mood was extended another month by the most watched, most-celebrated Paralympics in history.

A study issued earlier this month by UK Trade & Investment suggested the 2012 "Summer of Sport" delivered 2.5 billion pounds ($3.9 billion) in foreign direct investment resulting from business events launched during the games. More comprehensive numbers on the games are expected later.

Richard Cope, director of trends at the global market research firm Mintel, says the possibilities abound for using the royal birth to economic advantage.

"These kinds of events do raise people's sense of pride," Cope said. "It makes them enjoy being British."

And they make people all over the world curious about kings, queens and castles. The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and other royal-related tourist attractions bring in more than 500 million pounds a year from overseas tourists, and predictions are for a 3 percent increase this year after all the hype of 2012.

British Tourist Authority's VisitBritain estimates that culture and heritage - which include theaters, galleries, castles, stately homes and pubs - generate 4.6 billion pounds a year in total spending by overseas tourists.

And while a royal birth isn't a typical economic event, things have a way of morphing in the social media age. The royals have come a long way since 1948, when Prince Charles' birth was announced by a footman who tacked a note to the railing outside Buckingham Palace.

William's engagement was announced on Twitter and on the monarchy website - which allows the royals to speak directly to the public. Between direct access and media excess, just about anything that touches the House of Windsor gets a maximum amount of attention.

The royals are marketplace movers in a way that goes way beyond commemorative china. When the Duchess of Cambridge wore a sapphire blue wrap dress to announce her engagement, designer Daniella Helayel found herself swamped with international attention - and buyers - within minutes.

(China Daily 06/13/2013 page10)

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