The UAE President Sheikh Khalifa made history when he touched down in the United Kingdom, becoming the first UAE Ruler in more than two decades to pay a state visit to the country. But he is one of a growing group of people to visit Britain from the Emirates.
There was a 7 per cent rise in the number of visitors from the UAE last year, according to VisitBritain, the agency tasked with promoting tourism in the UK. And almost 18 per cent of tourists originating from the Emirates were UAE nationals, up from 11 per cent in 2011.
They were among a record number of 530,000 people from the Arabian Gulf to visit Britain in 2012. The overall figure was up 6 per cent from the previous year.
Average spending by UAE travellers in the UK grew by 84 per cent, beating China and France last year.
Gulf visitors spend an average of Dh12,380 per visit, nearly four times the amount spent on average by all visitors, according to VisitBritain.
Spending figures for visitors from the UAE reached Dh2.6 billion last year, compared with Dh1.4bn in 2011. Spending per night for UAE visitors was about £160 (Dh911).
"It is one of the most common areas or places to go to in Europe," says Mohammed Al Fahim, the general manager of products and services at Safar Travel & Tourism, an Abu Dhabi-based agency.
"Speaking as a UAE national, it is attractive for many reasons. One is shopping, next is the weather during the spring period. Thirdly is the different types of places you can go in the UK. Other than London, you have access to Scotland, you have access to Europe via the Eurostar. It's another hub if people want to go to the United States."
Holiday trips rose sharply last year, accounting for 36 per cent of the visits from the UAE to the UK, compared with 24 per cent in the previous year, according to VisitBritain.
The UK is also a popular destination for customers of Royal Jet, Abu Dhabi's private plane operator, which flew to eight airports in the UK last year, including Heathrow, Jersey, Manchester, Edinburgh and Birmingham.
Trips that involved visiting friends and families, which typically result in lower spending, accounted for fewer visits last year at 28 per cent, compared with 39 per cent in 2011, according to VisitBritain.
Business visits, however, dipped by one per cent to 20 per cent in 2012.
But both leisure and business trips may rise if visa rules are relaxed for Emiratis, according to Mr Al Fahim.
Currently, UAE nationals must arrange visas for the UK before they travel, but talks are ongoing between the two governments to ease restrictions.
"Some people over here see the process as a burden. They see that it is going to take four or five days to get a visa, whereas if you are travelling tomorrow or the day after [it is difficult]," said Mr Al Fahim.
"From a leisure perspective you can plan it, but from a business perspective if you could receive a visa on the spot there would be an excellent flow of traffic towards the UK," he added.
A decision is expected on visa-free travel within months, according to the British government, which is keen to encourage more travel from the region.
"The Gulf is a very important source market for Britain," said Sumathi Ramanathan, the regional manager for Asia Pacific and Middle East at VisitBritain.
"Our mission is to keep this momentum going and continue to grow visitor numbers from this region to meet our ambition of delivering a 30 per cent increase in visits by 2020."
The Emirates is not, however, in the top five source countries.They are France, Germany, the US, Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands.
But the UK remained one of the top source markets for inbound travel to the UAE last year, despite strong visitor growth rates from India, China and Russia.
For Abu Dhabi, the UK remained the largest overseas market. More than 129,000 British travellers stayed in the emirate in the first 11 months of last year, representing a 2 per cent increase over the same period in 2011, according to Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.
About 2.17 million people visited Abu Dhabi during this period last year. British travellers stayed on average for 4.32 nights per person, a decrease of about 1 per cent over 2011.
Dubai also registered an increase in UK visitors of 6.6 per cent to 685,629 tourists last year.
They generated an 11.64 per cent rise in the number of guest nights. Among the reasons was the increased connectivity between the two countries, according to the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commence Marketing.
There are more than 150 direct flights every week between Dubai and the UK.
The latest airline to join the route is Qantas, with its Heathrow-Dubai flight last month following a tie-up with Emirates Airline.