It’s a mile-long shopping destination known for chain stores, traffic jams, air pollution and crowds of meandering tourists, but London’s Oxford Street has gained an unwelcome accolade after the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs listed it on a map of the most “dangerous areas” for Emirati tourists in the capital.
The warning comes after two separate attacks on Emirati tourists in London this year, and has prompted fears that it may reduce the number of wealthy visitors to the capital from the Gulf.
In April three Emirati sisters were attacked in their hotel room at Marble Arch, while two weeks later a couple from the country were robbed at gun point in their Paddington.
The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also included Edgware Road, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Soho, Marble Arch and Piccadilly on a map of dangerous areas, which it appears to have created using the Met Police’s freely available crime mapping website.
The ministry said these areas had high rates for fraud, theft and pickpocketing. “This area includes famous Selfridges, which attracts many Emiratis,” a spokesman is reported to have said. However tourism officials and the Met Police have pointed to an overall drop in crime of 17 per cent in the West End since 2007, with robberies at their lowest level in 15 years and burglaries at the lowest number since 1974.
Metropolitan Police commander Makhdum Chishty said “There is absolutely nowhere in London which should be avoided. We understand the incidents involving Emirati nationals earlier this year was shocking, but it was also very, very rare.”
He added: “Police presence is high and post-Ramadan with the traditional influx of visitors from the UAE, we reviewed our policing plans so we have a strong presence from our policing teams and officers working in plain clothes. We are also profiling busy times of the week when visitor spots and iconic destinations in central London become busy.”
Video: Jamie Merrill explains the reasons behind the decision
Emirati tourist Mona Al Ali, 29, told the National newspaper in Dubai: “I will definitely be avoiding those areas the next time I go to London because this is like an official warning from the ministry… I think maybe people from the Gulf are more targeted there because of their lifestyle. They might not be too discreet with their jewellery when they travel and they were nice clothes.”
The New West End Company, which represents traders in the West End declined to comment on Wednesday, but a source close to many shops in the area described the UAE safety guidance as “misinformation”.
Gordon Innes, chief executive of London & Partners, which promotes the capital abroad, insisted that “London is one of the safest big cities in the world” with a “friendly multicultural population”.
He told The Independent, “Whilst we appreciate that the isolated incidents involving UAE citizens earlier in the year raised understandable concerns, crimes of this nature remain extremely rare and the city authorities have been working hard to reassure people travelling from this region to London that we take the safety of all visitors in our capital extremely seriously.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Crime in London fell by six per cent in the last year, with burglary and robbery at their lowest rates for years, making London one of the safest major cities in the world. Crimes like those involving UAE citizens earlier in the year are isolated and thankfully very rare; and the Met Police will continue to work extremely hard to ensure the safety of the millions of visitors who flock to the capital each year.”
Lonely Planet Britain's James Smart said: “Tens of thousands of shoppers visit Oxford Street every day and the vast majority of these visits will be incident free. When incidents do occur, they tend to grab the headlines, thanks to Oxford Street's international reputation. We'd always encourage travellers to any of the world's major cities to keep an eye on their bag or wallet.
“If Oxford Street isn't for you, particularly as it can get very busy, London boasts lots of shopping alternatives. There are smart boutiques in Mayfair, grungy markets in Camden, hip design shops in Clerkenwell and vintage clothes stalls in Shoreditch. If you want big brands, the shopping centres in Shepherd's Bush and Stratford have them all under one roof.”