Two consecutive attacks on UAE nationals visiting London in recent weeks have left several scars: horrific physical ones (such as those left on the victims of the atrocious Cumberland Hotel “Hammer Attack”)
as well as reputational scars which are worsened by increasing questions on whether or not London is still the popular tourist destination that it once was among UAE tourists, and Arab visitors in general.
However, a new YouGov study, commissioned for this website, has shown that both the physical and reputational scars are far from healing, especially when it comes to the perception of ‘brand UK’ amongst UAE nationals and residents.
A staggering 52 percent of UAE nationals included in the poll have said that they don’t feel the UK is safe and 32 percent of UAE nationals say they are now unlikely to visit the UK for their next holiday.
These findings are from a YouGov poll of a total of 1,154 UAE residents, which was conducted between April 24-27.
POLL: 52% of UAE nationals say UK ‘unsafe’
The poll also shows that the current negative perception towards visiting the UK also extends to non-Emiratis, with 31 percent of Arab expats living in the UAE and 13 percent of Asian expats living in the UAE also saying that they are unlikely to visit the UK for their next holiday.
A damaging perception
Obviously, such a result doesn’t come as a surprise when the wounds are – literary – as fresh as they are. However, the Metropolitan Police says that the crime rate actually dropped by six percent in the British capital last year, while the official authority responsible for London’s tourism said the British capital is one of the “safest” in the world.
“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,” London and Partners (L&P) said in a statement to Al Arabiya News.
Of course, the two incidents are still being investigated by the police and there are no indications that they are linked. By the looks of things so far, the attackers seem to have targeted the victims purely on the impression that they seemed to be rich, rather than for racial/religious reasons.
In addition, and in an almost unprecedented governmental gesture towards individual incidents, the British Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Hugh Robertson publically declared sympathy for the victims of the “Hammer Attack” earlier this month.
Yet, the British tourism sector should be concerned if such attacks continue; particularly given the findings of the study above and some of the public resentment declared by concerned UAE nationals on social networks and in traditional media outlets.
Indeed, there is such a thing as a “nation brand” and the founder of the renowned “Nation Brand Index” (NBI), Simon Anholt, says that there are six factors that affect the perception of a nation, and tourism is definitely one of them. The other factors are: governance, export products, people and culture.
What is also interesting upon reading the work of Simon Anholt is that he suggests that any negative perception on one of the six factors can affect the remaining five and as such, the entire “nation brand.” For instance, the NBI has shown a drop in the perception of the United States as a whole during the early 2000s due to its foreign policy decisions and wars, which means that a negative perception of the government could possibly make a person less enthusiastic about travelling to the U.S. to visit the Rocky mountains, despite nothing having changed about the mountains themselves!
Luckily, Anholt’s theory also suggests that it takes a long time for perception of a nation brand to change; as such, it would be safe to assume – provided no more Emirati tourists are subject to such unfortunate attacks – that the UAE’s love affair with the UK will continue to develop.
Having said that, as in any major city, visitors to London need to always be vigilant and cautious as the reality is that nobody can ever guarantee that crimes won’t happen.
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.
Photo: (Design by: Farwa Rizwan/ Al Arabiya News)