Poll: 52% of UAE nationals say UK ‘unsafe’
A third of Emiratis say they are unlikely to visit Britain after two armed attacks in London, a YouGov / Al Arabiya News survey finds
More than half of UAE nationals feel the UK is an unsafe destination in the wake of two vicious attacks on Emirati visitors to London, a YouGov / Al Arabiya News survey has found.
The results present a striking shift in Emirati perceptions of the British capital, which in recent years had welcomed a surge tourists from the Gulf, with more than 50,000 Emiratis visiting the UK annually.
Last week, a seven-member gang attacked an Emirati man and his wife in their London apartment, less than three weeks after three Emirati women were assaulted with a hammer in their hotel apartment at the Cumberland Hotel in central London.
The three women were hospitalized, as one of them was left brain damaged. Property worth more than £1,000 ($2,000) was stolen and withdrawals totaling £3,000 were made on one of the victims’ bank cards. The gang attack on the Emirati couple did not leave anyone hurt, but money, jewelry and credit cards were also stolen.
The attacks immediately prompted concerns over whether the British capital is still a safe holiday destination for UAE nationals.
The Al Arabiya News/ YouGov poll of 1154 people found that more than a third of UAE nationals are now unlikely to visit the UK for their next holiday, while 31 percent of Arab expats residing in the UAE also said they were unlikely to visit.
Contacted by Al Arabiya News, an official authority responsible for London’s tourism reiterated an earlier statement that the British capital is one of the “safest.”
“London is one of the safest big cities in the world and welcomes many millions of visitors every year who come to the capital to experience everything the city has to offer,” Visit Britain said in a statement.
It added: “Figures released this week show crime is falling in London and that burglary and robbery are at their lowest rates for many years.”
But one UAE commentator said that he feels some attacks may not be registered.
“A number of my friends have been attacked [in London] but it doesn’t make it to the news,” Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, a UAE-based writer, told Al Arabiya News.
“These two incidents in the past month were reported because both families were attacked in such a vicious manner. The Brits really have to get on top of things before it gets out of hand,” Qassemi added. “Other than these physical attacks, there are some verbal abuse and robbery attacks that are underreported.”
A spokesman for VisitBritain said that Britain is “highly regarded” among Arabs.
But despite the organization’s insistence that the country is safe for tourists, some commentators said this would be of little comfort given the worry the attacks on the UAE citizens has caused.
“It’s relatively easy for Visit Britain to come out and say London is a safe place,” said Sundip Chahal, YouGov’s chief executive in the Middle East and North Africa. “But this poll provides quantifiable data that Emiratis are very wary of traveling to the UK. If the UK authorities just try to ignore it and come out with standard responses, it’s not enough.”
Despite this, other analysts cast doubt over whether there would be a big impact on the number of UAE visitors to the UK.
“The recent hotel attack on the UAE nationals is an aberration – there is no statistic that singles out Emiratis. It could have been anyone. It was as random an attack as it was senseless,” said Aviation analyst Saj Ahmad of StrategicAeroResearch.com.
“For that reason, I doubt there’s going to be a massive impact at all on visitors from the UAE to the UK, or indeed any other GCC or Arab country… The UK is very safe.”
Police have say the two attacks on Emiratis in London were not linked. Four suspects – three men and a woman – were arrested a day after the first attack, at the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch.
Cumberland Hotel spokesman Chris King told Al Arabiya News the hammer attack on the three Emirati women was an “extreme” case and said security to the hotel room was “not compromised.”
King said: “It was generally extreme - this sort of thing does not happen in London, full stop... The police have said on record that our security to the room was not compromised. We continue to be at the disposal of the police and will do everything we can to assist.”
Qassemi said that while Britain has to act to ensure the safety of tourists, those from the Gulf states should also bear responsibility.
“I think there’s a responsibility on the Gulf, which exports so many tourists to Britain and Europe, to educate these tourists on the importance of being aware and not flaunting their wealth.
“It’s common sense to a large degree, but we take London for granted and we assume that the safety you feel in Kuwait, Doha, Riyadh, Dubai or Abu Dhabi is transferred there,” Qassemi said, adding that the tourists should not travel with “their own perceptions of safety.”
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