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London's Landmarks Should Be For Everyone, So Why Do They Cost So Much?

03/11/2016 16:17

Ah, London. With its Bridge, Tower, Dungeon, parks, palaces and M&M's World, it just might be the most culturally rich city on the planet. The problem is that people have to actually be rich to visit any of these great landmarks.

A study from the Telegraph found that London's visitor attractions are the most expensive in the world. The paper surveyed similar attractions in other cities, and found that someone hoping to explore the cultural touchstones of The Big Smoke would have to shell out more cash than they would in New York, Hong Kong or Paris.

Landmarks like Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral theoretically belong to the public, so why are they so expensive? To find out, we need to look at where the revenue from landmarks goes.

1 - Paying staff

As is the case with running any business, venue, attraction or wizard, a lot of the income goes on the staff. This fact is not lost on the Queen, who recently made headlines for making an actual decision; belatedly catching austerity fever from George "I Was Chancellor Once" Osborne, she fired some Palace employees to save money.

While we can't specify the number of workers who were laid off--a non-disclosure agreement is written into all Palace staff contracts--we can get a fairly clear idea of how much they were paid.

While some footmen have starting salaries as low as £12,000, the Queen pays Palace workers an average of £44,724 a year, and that doesn't even include the corgis. This is well above the national average income, especially when you factor in the free Buckingham Palace accommodation. Meanwhile, Beefeaters at the Tower of London--all retired servicemen and women--start on £24,000, with some of their wages going to accommodation within the Tower itself.

I'm not saying these workers should get paid less (who else would buff the Queen's globus cruciger?) but this is undoubtedly where some of the ticket money goes. As the old saying goes, a buffed globus cruciger alone cannot justify a high ticket price.

2 - Maintenance

If none of London's landmark attractions were well-maintained, we wouldn't even want to visit them--it took the ancient ruins of Greece and Rome thousands of years to be considered worthy of tourist attention. No wonder Buckingham Palace once cost £150 million to maintain.

But let's leave Buckingham behind like when Stevie Nicks released "Edge Of Seventeen", and head to a difference palace. The Palace of Westminster (£70 for a family tour - wig not included) is due for renovation over the next six years amounting to £7.1 billion. But again, considering the fact that the public pays for parliament, does this justify the hefty ticket price?

3 - Business rates

For the London landmarks not fortunate enough to receive public funding, or those which haven't been part of the city's landscape long enough to achieve hallowed listed status--including some of London's most beloved pubs-- they will have to pay business rates. Business rates recently underwent their first revaluation in nearly a decade, and are set to hit many London landmarks harder than most non-residential buildings.

Heathrow Airport's rates have risen by £98 million following the latest revaluation. If the airport offset this revaluation by raising prices, London will be more difficult to access.

Not even the beloved Tower of London can escape this rates rise. After the new valuations, the Tower will have to pay 90% higher rates. They were better off as a functioning prison.

4 - Straight up corporate profit-making

In the room of reasons why landmarks cost so much, this is the elephant. Many London sites of cultural heritage and attraction are run as, or as if they were, businesses. And as anyone who has played Monopoly knows, business is brutal. (Also, build a hotel on Mayfair.)

The "Insert Sponsor Here" London Eye (£90 for a family) has spun itself as an important part of the London skyline, on par with Big Ben himself, but it's the operators, not the public, that are rolling all the way to the bank.

If these landmarks are truly going to value people over profit by lowering their prices, they need to leave this corporate mindset behind. In turn, this will open up the possibility of more government funding, or at least some sort of deal to reflect their cultural importance. In an ideal world the government would legally enforce affordable prices in return for funding or exemption from business rates. But then, in an ideal world, we wouldn't have this problem in the first place.

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