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‘Business as usual’ in London despite UAE fears

Travel, retail and real estate experts don’t expect revenues to be dented despite safety concerns among Emiratis

Published: Updated:

Business experts are confident Gulf travelers will continue to spend big in the UK, despite safety fears following two vicious attacks on UAE nationals in London.

Experts from the travel, retail and real estate sectors don’t expect revenues to be hit, even after a YouGov / Al Arabiya News poll found that most UAE nationals think the UK is now an ‘unsafe’ destination.

UAE's lost love for London (Graphic: Al Arabiya News)
UAE's lost love for London (Graphic: Al Arabiya News)

Emiratis are among the biggest spenders in London’s upmarket West End, with an average tax-free spend of £1,360 per transaction, according to figures provided by Global Blue.

Tills ringing

Visitors from Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia account for 24 percent of all tax-free shopping spending in the district, according to the company. That just reflects the highest spenders of all, however; on average, Emiratis spend a total of £1,820 per UK trip, according to VisitBritain.

With tills already ringing, retail experts are preparing for the annual ‘Ramadan Rush’ – the influx of shoppers around the time of the holy month – and the additional big-spending customers it brings.

That is even the case in the very neighborhood around the Cumberland Hotel, the scene of a violent hammer attack on three Emirati women.

POLL: 52% of UAE nationals say UK ‘unsafe’

FULL RESULTS: Violent attacks see UAE Arabs spurn Britain

READ MORE: London’s calling: Arab playground, or is ‘eighth emirate’ losing appeal?

OPINION: Not-so-great Britain? How the hammer attack hurt ‘Brand UK’

Richard Dickinson, chief executive of the New West End Company, which promotes the West End as a shopping district, downplayed any fears of an economic impact following the London incidents.

“The Cumberland Hotel attack was very much an isolated and extraordinary incident for London, one of the safest cities in the world,” he said.

“West End retailers understand the huge influence that Gulf visitors have… we have seen a continued growth in in-store spend in the West End – with both Saudi Arabian and UAE shoppers spending increasing by 21 and 23 per cent year on year,” he added.

Houses selling

Property experts said they see no evidence of a dent in Gulf nationals’ appetite for investing in London, which has some of the highest property values in the world.

“On the ground, we have not seen any holding back in investment interest from our Emirati or Gulf national clients. In fact, we had a new property search with a Middle Eastern family just last week,” said Naomi Heaton, chief executive of London Central Portfolio (LCP), which specialises in investments in prime London residential property.

“50 percent of private purchases in Prime Central London are buy-to-let investments, an asset class that continues to outperform other investments and does not experience the volatility of equities. Buy-to-let investments also do not require investors to visit/live in the UK, so we do not feel that any prevailing concerns over safety would deter buyers.”

Hotels booked

Peter Brun, chief communications officer at Swiss-based high-end tourism firm Kuoni Travel, said that the attacks did not seem to have any impact on the numbers of Emirati tourists in London.

POLL: 52% of UAE nationals say UK ‘unsafe’

FULL RESULTS: Violent attacks see UAE Arabs spurn Britain

READ MORE: London’s calling: Arab playground, or is ‘eighth emirate’ losing appeal?

OPINION: Not-so-great Britain? How the hammer attack hurt ‘Brand UK’

Saj Ahmad, an aviation analyst behind StrategicAeroResearch.com, told Al Arabiya News earlier this week that it would be extremely unlikely that tourism to the UK would decline.

“Given the relaxation of visa rules for Emiratis coming to the UK and in general, the Arab preference to come shopping in London, visitors from the GCC are critically important to the UK,” he said. “They are big cash spenders and outstrip other visitors during peak months of the summer and other periods like Ramadan.”

“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,” he added. “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.”

Chris King, a spokesman for the Cumberland Hotel, said that the property remains “fully booked”, although did not give specifics of nationalities.

Exclusive poll

More than half of UAE nationals questioned in an exclusive YouGov / Al Arabiya News poll said they feel the UK is an unsafe destination.

A YouGov / Al Arabiya News poll quizzed 1154 people about their attitudes to UK tourism. (Al Arabiya News)
A YouGov / Al Arabiya News poll quizzed 1154 people about their attitudes to UK tourism. (Al Arabiya News)

Around 32 percent of UAE nationals are “extremely” or “somewhat” unlikely to visit the UK in the wake of the attacks, the poll found. Arab expats living in the country voiced similar concerns, although Asian and Western residents remain keen on visiting London.

Despite confidence among some business leaders that this will not translate into lost revenues, some warned that there could be an impact on the UK economy – especially if there is a repeat attack on Arab visitors.

“I think it will undoubtedly have some impact on the UK economy. I think where it will have the biggest impact is when people are weighing up two holiday destinations, for instance London or New York. And this isn’t going to do London any favors,” said Sundip Chahal, YouGov’s chief executive in the Middle East and North Africa.

“If there is a repeat of any of these attacks, I think we could well be in the territory of having a very serious impact.”

POLL: 52% of UAE nationals say UK ‘unsafe’

FULL RESULTS: Violent attacks see UAE Arabs spurn Britain

READ MORE: London’s calling: Arab playground, or is ‘eighth emirate’ losing appeal?

OPINION: Not-so-great Britain? How the hammer attack hurt ‘Brand UK’