For many travellers heading to the capital, Monday was going to be another normal day: perhaps they’d do some sightseeing, or spend time with family. That is, of course, until Queen Elizabeth II died last week – making September 19, the day of her funeral, likely to be one of the most crowded ever days in London.
Some 2,000 foreign presidents, dignitaries and ambassadors are expected to attend the event, with experts describing the logistics as “the equivalent of standing up hundreds of state visits in the space of two weeks.” And while the public are unable to attend, hundreds of thousands of members of the public have headed to the capital to view the late Queen’s coffin lying in state in Westminster Hall. All these groups need somewhere to stay – and it seems as if hotels have cottoned on, ramping up their prices and even booting out previously paid-up guests.
Woes in Windsor
Mary Sandell is one such visitor. She had booked a room at The Macdonald Hotel in Windsor ahead of a family reunion with her Los Angeles-based daughter this week. With only 48 hours notice, however, she received a message from the hotel, informing her that her booking was cancelled. The official reason? “The death of the Queen”, but nothing more.
“It was disgusting,” she says. Wrangling with customer service representatives got her nowhere that evening. The pair managed to stay “in the last remaining good room in another hotel” on Monday by virtue of knowing the town – but Sandell believes that she “should at least have been offered a different room at a later date.”
She now believes that her room was sacrificed for “the world’s press”, who the hotel would likely accommodate for a higher fee throughout the mourning period.
Currently, The Macdonald Hotel’s website shows all rooms as fully-booked until Monday, with availability from Tuesday starting at £279 – a price that drops to £152 by October 2. The hotel was approached, but declined to comment.
Sam Goss, the general manager of the Castle Hotel in Windsor, corroborates Mary’s suspicion. He says that a wealth of interest has come from both domestic and international groups, in addition to media teams, stationed in the area to cover the proceedings. In response to the surge in booking requests, the hotel has closed for new inquiries – but the ‘outdoor terrace, indoor lounge and restaurant remain open for guests.’
Paul Charles, the chief executive of the travel consultancy the PC Agency, has noticed this practice more broadly. “After the Queen passed away, we saw hotels in central London quietly closing their inventories: overriding the usual booking systems in favour of staff manually overseeing the process, and intervening in every single case.
“This allows them to move guests out in favour of VIPs, as these hotels will likely have long standing relationships with overseas governments, foreign delegations and security groups – who it’s often more profitable to cater for.”
Even if guests haven’t been removed in favour of these higher-paying groups, the remaining rooms will be listed for “upwards of 30 or 40 per cent more than usual”, says Charles.
A cursory glance at the weekend’s room prices shows this in practice. At the luxury St. James' Court in Westminster, a stay on the night of Sunday September 18 will cost £980. This drops to just £323 for the same room a week later.
Similarly, at The Londoner in Leicester Square, the aptly-named King Room is priced at £815 on the night before the funeral. By September 25, that figure drops to £566. And the more budget options are getting in on the act, too: the cost of a room in the Blackfriars Premier Inn on September 18 is £187, plummeting to £103 a week later and £92 in October.
Alongside the legions of royal fans jostling for a place to lay their head, the increased number of security personnel will also require hotel rooms. It’s thought that 10,000 police officers will be stationed around the capitol, alongside 1,500 soldiers. That, plus international delegations and royal mourners, puts a lot of strain on the already-packed central London accommodation.
In fact, online travel retailer lastminute.com has reported an 85 per cent increase in bookings over September 18 and 19 this year compared to 2021, and a 65 per cent increase on 2019’s bookings. And naturally, unhappy travellers have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the price hikes. Wendy Sutherland, who describes herself as an ‘educator’, writes that the prospect of “London being full” was enough for her to cancel a trip to the capital this week. She says she initially paid around £170 per night, but it would now cost an extraordinary £679 if she was to rebook.
As for what guests can do if they find themselves turfed out? Paul Charles thinks that those who have pre-paid for their rooms will be in a slightly stronger position, as they have a confirmed contract with the hotel. Even then, however, there isn’t much recourse. “It’s just an unprecedented situation,” he says. “And it’s difficult to know what guests could do.”