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Exclusive poll: Violent attacks see UAE Arabs spurn Britain

Attacks on UAE nationals have left many reluctant to visit the UK, according to a YouGov / Al Arabiya News survey

Ben Flanagan

Published: Updated:

Emirati nationals and Arab expats are the least likely to visit Britain of all UAE residents, a YouGov / Al Arabiya News poll has found, amid widespread fears over two violent attacks in London.

The comprehensive poll, conducted across multiple age groups and nationalities, points to growing concern over the safety of the UK capital among Arabs in the UAE.

It was commissioned after two shocking attacks on Emiratis in London by allegedly armed gangs intent on robbing their victims.

The two attacks, just weeks apart, prompted concerns over whether the city is still a safe holiday destination.

The answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’ among Emiratis, according to a poll of 1154 UAE residents by YouGov /Al Arabiya News.

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

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News of the attacks saw the hashtag #london_is_not_safe emerge on Twitter, trending among local UAE citizens. “If Britain is unable to protect the Emiratis there is no need for us to go to London,” Mohamed Alraeisi, one Abu Dhabi-based Twitter user who posted about the hashtag, told Al Arabiya News.

Sundip Chahal, YouGov’s chief executive in the Middle East and North Africa, said that the news of the robberies may have been more shocking to UAE nationals than Brits, who he says have become accustomed to hearing such stories.

“In the UK, people are almost desensitized to this kind of thing. In the UK [a robbery] is a page-seven story. But here in the UAE, it’s front-page news,” he said.

“The UAE … has low rates of crime and few violent assaults. So when you are in the UK, you need to acclimatize – you can’t leave your car unlocked, and you shouldn’t have your valuables on display when in public.”

The YouGov /Al Arabiya poll found that the majority – or 52 percent – of Emirati respondents do not feel the UK is safe. That compares to 41 percent of Arab expats, 25 percent of Asians living in the UAE, and 7 percent of Westerners. Around 20 percent of UAE residents are now unlikely to visit the UK for their next holiday, rising to 31 percent of Arab expats.

The two attacks have changed Emiratis’ perceptions of the UK and London in particular, Chahal said.

“London was one of their favorite destinations. But now, the majority of Emiratis say that the UK is not a safe tourist destination… I think it would be fair to infer that [UAE nationals and Arab expats in the UAE] feel these were targeted attacks.”

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

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The police investigations into the two events are still ongoing; there is no evidence to suggest that they were linked.

But Chahal, speaking in a personal capacity, said it is likely the attacks were targeted. “There’s a perception in the UK that Arabs are wealthy. And they are fairly easy to identify and target.”

London and Partners, the official authority responsible for London’s tourism, said after the attacks that the British capital is one of the “safest big cities in the world”

Yet Chahal said making such claims is “easy” – and will do little to reassure tourists worried about visiting the UK. “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,” he said.

Yet other commentators said it was unlikely that the two attacks would have a great impact on tourism, despite the negative perceptions showing in the YouGov / Al Arabiya poll.

“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.

“And 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,” he added. “The UK is very safe and there hasn't been any such events like this before either.”

The YouGov poll, conducted on behalf of Al Arabiya News, questioned 1154 UAE residents between 24th – 27th April, 2014. The respondents were from several different emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

YouGov, a global market research company, has proprietary online panels that cover the Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan and India. The company says it is one of the Middle East’s most quoted research companies.

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

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’