LONDON // Amid the hubbub of Panamanian folk dances, Belgian chocolate displays and a giant inflatable bottle of Corona surrounded by a Mexican mariachi band, Dubai's stand at the World Travel Market offered something new this year: smiling policemen. Dubai's two-storey, sand-coloured stand at the industry's second-largest travel and tourism conference was fairly reserved, as usual.
But front and centre at the installation were Lt Col Nasser al Awar, the director of Dubai Police's customer service department, and other police representatives who had a new angle for selling the city to the world. "We want to deliver a message to tourist companies... that we have a very good police force, which is internationally respected," Lt Col Awar said at the exhibition at London's ExCel Centre, near Canary Wharf.
"We have transparency and co-operation, highly qualified persons, highly educated persons. Our law enforcement is very humanitarian and very professional." Dubai's push for tourists is sometimes viewed as being at odds with its traditions and conservative culture. The emirate has received unwelcome international media attention after a series of arrests of tourists and expatriate residents for drug offences and indecent behaviour in recent years.
The UAE attracts more tourists from the UK than from any other country. Dubai Police have been travelling to various trade conferences for several years, the officer said, but this is the first time the force has attended an international tourism exhibition. Police will also accompany the Dubai Department of Commerce, Tourism and Marketing at a similar conference in Barcelona, Spain, next month. Lt Col Awar said he was there to reassure travel agents and their clients that the UAE has a good, professional police force and that tourists can come here and feel safe.
He said he did not believe the media attention had deterred people from visiting the city: "Even after the arrests, the number of tourists is still increasing. Even after the financial crisis, the number of tourists is increasing." He added: "We are openly responding to all questions and it's all appreciated. People appreciate the safety in Dubai. They say they are willing to do business in Dubai. I have not received any negative comments."
Some tourists have reservations about visiting the UAE, fearing they may face problems with more stringent laws than those they may be used to in other countries, especially with regard to drugs, alcohol and public behaviour. Last month two Britons, Michelle Palmer and Vince Acors, were sentenced to three years in jail after being convicted of committing an indecent act on a public beach in Dubai.
A British DJ known as Grooverider, whose real name is Raymond Bingham, was arrested last November after being caught with more than two grams of marijuana at Dubai International Airport. He was released in September after serving 10 months. Another British tourist, Keith Brown, was sentenced to a mandatory four years in prison in February after being caught with 0.003 grams of marijuana stuck to the bottom of his shoe as he passed through the airport. He was released a few weeks later. email@example.com