GCC nationals flock to Europe despite safety concerns

Sunday 24/07/2016
A doorman at a department store puts a customer’s purchases in the boot of a Dubai registered car in London.

Abu Dhabi - Gulf Arabs are not turn­ing away from Europe as a favoured holiday destination despite the rise of right-wing politics across the continent. Authorities have sought to reassure Gulf visitors there would be no tolerance of at­tacks targeting them.

Britain — London in particular — remains a top global holiday desti­nations for travellers from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in July and August.

Commander Mak Chishty, who has lead responsibility for com­munity engagement for London’s Metropolitan Police, said Britain’s capital is safe, welcoming and de­termined to prevent visitors falling prey to criminals and bigots.

His comments follow Britain’s vote to withdraw from the European Union after a campaign in which anti-immigration sentiment played a key role. There has also been a rise of populist right-wing groups across Europe, such as France’s Na­tional Front, Germany’s Alternative for Germany and Austria’s Freedom Party.

“It is unfortunate to witness the recent terror incidents in Europe,” said Sultan al-Obeidl, an Emirati liv­ing in Abu Dhabi. “Our thoughts are always with our friends but the only way to fight terror is to actually not be scared of it. We will continue to go to Europe.”

Fellow Emirati Abu Dhabi resident Mohamed Jawad also shrugged off international unrest and was contin­uing to make European travel plans. “The fear will always be around and taking precautions before travel­ling and making sure that wherever I travel isn’t having any problems is always on my mind,” he said, “but all this still hasn’t stopped me from travelling and I don’t think it will.”

Jawad said he would heed warn­ings for UAE nationals not to wear their national dress abroad, made after an Emirati businessman was mistreated by police in the United States when an American citizen mistook him for an Islamic State (ISIS) sympathiser.

“I wouldn’t ever have worn my traditional clothes in public like that, in a country such as the United States or in Europe,” said Jawad. “I would never think of wearing my traditional clothes in any other non- Arab country.”

There were two attacks on Emira­tis in London in 2014, one in which three Emirati sisters were beaten with a hammer in their hotel room. Chishty said such high-profile in­cidents involving GCC visitors had “understandably raised concerns”.

“These types of offences remain extremely rare and there is no evi­dence that visitors from the GCC or UAE are being specifically targeted,” he said. “We also work closely with Gulf state embassies, listening to any concerns they may have to bet­ter understand and deal with them and provide them with an overview of our policing plans.”

Official figures suggest confidence in London’s policing and security among GCC residents remains high. Visits from the UAE in 2015 rose more than 19% compared to the year before.

“There has been no change due to recent events, as witnessed in the numbers of Emiratis or GCC nation­als visiting Europe this summer,” said Premjit Bangara of UAE-based Sharaf Travel Services. “We have re­ceived firm bookings for the United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia.

“There has been a decline in book­ings to France for this summer but the Euro 2016 football tournament righted this decline for June and July.”

The United States also remains popular despite recent protests that led the UAE embassy in Washington to issue a special alert urging travel­lers “to please stay away from any on-going or planned demonstra­tions and protests in cities around the United States and elsewhere”. Bahrain also issued an advisory no­tice.

Nevertheless, Obeidl, who works for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Com­pany, said GCC residents must be careful wherever they travel and not just in Europe. “The display of wealth that some people present is a provocation that is only bound to harm them,” he said.