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'Megxit' effect could turn Vancouver Island 'into the next Martha's Vineyard'

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, could provide a $38 million brand boost to Canada, according to one marketing expert.
Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex during their visit to Canada House in London on Jan. 7, 2020.Daniel Leal-Olivas / Pool via AP file

The Kennedys put Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on the map. The Bush family made Kennebunkport, Maine, a tourist destination. And now, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex may be doing the same for Vancouver Island, Canada, according to marketing experts.

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, have been living on the picturesque island, located on the Northeastern Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of British Columbia, since they officially stepped back from their duties as senior members of the royal family in January.

Vancouver Island is slightly bigger than the state of Maryland, and is home to more than 800,000 people. Meghan has already been spotted on the hiking trails, but other activities, such as whale watching, kayaking and golfing make Vancouver Island a dream destination for outdoor adventurers.

“The couple could have chosen to live anywhere in North America — and they selected Vancouver Island. That’s a powerful endorsement.”

“The couple could have chosen to live anywhere in North America and they selected Vancouver Island. That’s a powerful endorsement and is generating positive buzz for the community,” said Andy Levine, chairman of the marketing company Development Counsellors International.

Eric Smallwood, president of the Apex Marketing Group, said all of that buzz is worth more than $38 million in positive brand value for the country, with that number increasing daily based on news coverage and information about the Sussexes’ new life on Vancouver Island, according to an analysis he conducted for NBC News.

“Vancouver Island is now on the map as a place where royals reside and live, similar to Martha’s Vineyard being put on the map by the Kennedys and Kennebunkport by the Bushes,” Smallwood said. “The focus will be tourism. A little longer term, it will be real estate.”

Sotheby’s Realty lists 57 luxury homes for sale on the island for anyone who might be interested in living like a royal. One home, billed as a “surfer’s paradise” on the water is priced at $10.5 million, while another “luxurious oceanfront estate” is on the market for nearly $6.8 million.

If the Sussexes decide to keep a permanent residence on the island, experts expect housing demands will increase, driving up existing property values. Construction jobs were already on the rise, due to demand for homes, according to a 2019 Vancouver Island Economic Alliance report.

Additionally, Levine predicted that the couple’s presence could lead to a new cottage industry: independent, “not-so-royal tours, which highlight the family’s favorite local shops, restaurants and playgrounds,” he said. “There may be a temporary influx of visitors trying to catch a glimpse of the couple out and about."

If whale watching isn’t working, maybe ‘Markle spotting’ will be a hit for the local tourist board.

“Canada has been trying to advance tourism to British Columbia,” Levine added. “So, if whale watching isn’t working, maybe ‘Markle spotting’ will be a hit.”

George Hanson, president and CEO of the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance, told NBC News he is “continually surprised at how few North Americans are aware of our island,” which is a short trip from Seattle. Hanson said he’s thrilled that the island is now known by people around the world.

“Vancouver Island is one of the most progressive, beautiful, pristine and spacious destinations in the world,” he said. “We understand why Harry and Meghan might choose to live here and why others not familiar with the island might want to come see this appeal for themselves.”