The number of tourists visiting Britain from the Gulf region has shot up by almost 10% in one year, with most coming to London, according to a new report by VisitBritain.
The tourism body said that the draw of fashion and luxury goods not available at home, as well as the chance to watch one of Britain's Premier League football clubs, were some of the main reasons that 494,000 people from the region made the trip to the UK in 2009.
Other key reasons for Britain's surge in popularity were the country's growing reputation as a safe, well-organised country, with polite, approachable people, and relatively low levels of theft and fraud. The more temperate climate was also seen as a bonus compared with the searing 45°C summer heat in Saudi Arabia, for example.
The phenomenon also coincided with increased interest in the country from Gulf region investors. Qatar Holdings, the state-owned investment fund, owns the Harrods department store. And Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on Manchester City FC in a bid to transform its fortunes. Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company recently bought the ExCel exhibition centre in London.
When would-be Gulf tourists were asked where they would most like to visit, Malaysia had a slight edge over Britain as a destination because of its rich scenic beauty. Britain's closest rivals are, in order of precedence, France, Thailand, Singapore and the USA.
Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications at VisitBritain said: "The number of visitors coming to the UK from the Gulf region has jumped significantly in the past year, partly thanks to a sustained push by VisitBritain to sell the UK as a travel destination. It is very good news that travellers from the region are increasingly attracted to our reputation as a safe, welcoming and friendly country with lots of sights, activities, adventures and entertainment to enjoy."
Visit Britain's research was based interviews with two focus groups in each of four countries: Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. All the people surveyed were nationals and were both male and female aged between 25 and 55 with and without children. The researchers also conduced 400 brief interviews, 100 in each country.
Hey, big spenders:
Average tourist spend in Britain: £554
â- Gulf tourist spend in Britain: £1,733
â- Gulf tourists as percentage of all tourists to UK: 1.7%
â- Gulf tourists' total spend in 2009: £856m
â- Gulf tourists' spend as percentage of total tourist spend: 5.2%
By Neil Gerrard
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