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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

The price of Austen tourism

Last summer, not long after the July 18 bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, officials in the English town of Basingstoke announced that tourist traffic had risen eighty percent, as fans flooded in to commemorate their favorite author in her home county of Hampshire.

Now a report by a tourism non-profit has put a price tag on the economic boost the Austen anniversary brought to the county: nearly £21 million in direct spending and new jobs generated by the estimated 265,500 extra visitors attracted by commemorative events.

Those events included an exhibit in Winchester that brought together six portraits, acknowledged or disputed, of the author; a walking trail in Basingstoke of book-shaped benches decorated in Austen themes; the erection in the Basingstoke town center of the first-ever statue of Austen; the unveiling in Winchester Cathedral of the new British £10 note featuring a portrait of Austen; and special or continuing displays at Jane Austen’s House Museum and Chawton House.

All the excitement “had a clear positive effect on visitor numbers at various visitor attractions,” according to the report from Tourism South East, as quoted in a press release issued by Hampshire tourism officials. Visits to embattled Chawton House more than doubled, and attendance numbers at the exhibition space featuring the Austen portraits also rose significantly.

Naturally, county officials would prefer not to wait until 2025, when the world will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Austen’s birth, for a repeat of last year’s moneymaking.

So this year Hampshire is showcasing its contributions to technology and engineering. Among them: The Spitfire – the fighter plane in which brave Royal Air Force fighters held off Nazi bombers during the 1940 Battle of Britain – was invented in Hampshire and introduced into use eighty years ago next month.

I guess we’ll have to wait until next year to find out whether courtship novels or fighter planes provide the bigger tourism payoff.

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