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Emiratis fearful after attacks, but allure of London remains strong

British tourism chiefs are concerned at the heavy fallout from the two recent attacks on Emiratis in London

Chris Doyle

Published: Updated:

Flying back from the Gulf to London in the early summer, planes are packed with families leaving for extended stays in Britain’s capital city to avoid the searing heat of the Arabian summer. The migration is impressive in scale and size. Over 500,000 visit Britain every year, staying longer and spending more than any other tourist category, an eye-popping £1.17 billion ($1.96 billion) in 2012. The department store John Lewis proclaimed three years ago that: “Middle Eastern countries are our biggest international customers, accounting for 35.5per cent of sales.”

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)

British tourism chiefs are therefore more than a trifle concerned at the heavy fallout from the two recent attacks on Emiratis in London, both occurring within weeks of each other. The first was on April 6, when three sisters were brutally attacked and the second was an armed robbery on April 22 when an apartment was broken into. Thankfully nobody was physically hurt in the second attack. Police say there is no evidence of linkage as yet between the two crimes. It would appear that the motive was theft.

Emiratis question future visits

But whilst this may not have attracted huge coverage in London, it certainly has got Emiratis worried and questioning future visits to their favoured European city. An Al Arabiya News/ YouGov poll, taken between April 24-27, shows that one in five UAE residents say that they are now unlikely to visit the UK for their next holiday, but this figure goes up to 32 percent for Emirati nationals. Other Gulf Arabs have taken note too.

This is all understandable in the immediate wake of such attacks, particularly for Emiratis who live in a country that has such low rates of violent crime. No doubt Gulf tourism to London will be hit in 2014 but will it go back up next year, if there are no more attacks?

Emiratis will still want to summer abroad and sample the cultural and other delights of Europe. My instinct is that the fall-out should be short term.

Chris Doyle

The British authorities have, and will continue to, react to this. The police have already arrested five suspects for the April 6 attack. Hotels will bolster their security. There will be efforts to reassure a nervous Emirati public. There should be no complacency whatsoever. Any further similar attacks, and Gulf airlines will be cutting back their flights to Heathrow - such will be the reaction.

Sound reasons for Emiratis to come back

Yet there are sound reasons for Emiratis to come back. London’s crime rate has come down in recent years, by over six percent according to police figures in the last financial year. Robberies are at the lowest levels for 15 years and there was an eight percent fall in burglaries. It may not seem like it for Emiratis when they read the news and it will be of no consolation to the victims of these attacks.

However, with some extra precautions the risks should hopefully be acceptably low. The crime rate is also lower in most of those central areas that Emiratis typically stay in such as Knightsbridge and Mayfair. Any Londoner can tell you that there is a thicket of CCTV cameras around every corner. As far as I can determine, there has been no major history of violent crimes against Gulf nationals. In fact last year was an incredible year for Gulf tourism. Moreover, levels of crime in London are no worse than most other major European cities or indeed those in North America. Paris has also suffered since 2011 because of the prohibition on wearing the burka in public, so this may still deter some Emiratis from choosing the French capital over London (aside from all the other obvious reasons!)

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I may be wrong, but Emiratis will still want to summer abroad and sample the cultural and other delights of Europe. My instinct is that the fall-out should be short term.

Yet one other aspect of these attacks needs addressing. There is a view that there may be racist or anti-Islamic elements to the violence. There is no evidence of this aside from the probability that the victims were targeted for their wealth. Still, given the rise of far right parties in Europe espousing increased Islamophobic discourse, it cannot be ruled out. Racist and religious hate crime in London has increased by 3.1 per cent, a trend that must be tackled. It is vital that nobody gives in to such narrow-minded extremism and efforts must be made to challenge it.

This needs greater exchange. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Brits head to Dubai for winter sun with precious little interaction with Emiratis. In the summer months, there is a role reversal with Emiratis joying the London scene once again largely in isolation from their British hosts. Many Europeans, including Brits, have failed to understand more conservative customs in Dubai and ended up offending. My experience is that Emiratis too have much to learn about English life and customs. Greater interchange could be of great advantage to both countries and counter any negativity that might exist or flourish.

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Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.