The number of Middle East visitors to the UK rose 15 percent to nearly half a million in the first three quarters of 2011, while the amount spent surged 29 percent, according to official UK statistics. Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics showed the number of visitors from the Middle East was 451,000 between January and September 2011, up from 394,000 during the same period in 2010. Similarly, total spending increased to US$1.2bn in the first three quarters of 2011, up from US$1bn in the same period in 2010. “The main driver of the increase of the number of Middle Eastern visitors to the UK were GCC countries as they turned their eyes away from Arab countries affected by the Arab Spring,” said Basel Abu Alrub, managing partner of Utravel in Dubai. A more detailed analysis of the figures showed that while UAE-based visitors accounted for 42 percent of Middle East visitors to the UK and their total number increased by 14 percent over the period, there was a decline in the total value of how much they spent. UAE visitors spent US$350m in the UK during the first three quarters of 2010, but this fell nine percent to US$319m during the same period of 2011. “Traditionally UAE travelers are as big of spenders as the other GCC countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia [but] it would make sense that the majority of visitors curbed their spending as Dubai was still recovering from the crises,” Alrub said. In North Africa, travel to the UK was impacted by developments relating to the Arab Spring and there was a decline in visitors from most of the countries affected. Egyptian visitors to the UK dropped seven percent, Tunisia fell 24 percent, while visitors from other North African countries fell 27 percent. The only exception was Morocco, which surged 42 percent.