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International Visa cardholders spent $6.21 billion with their cards visiting the UAE in 2018

Why are so many international travellers increasing their spending with their VISA credit cards while in the UAE?

Number of Visa card transactions by visitors to the UAE rose 22% year-on-year Russian visitors recorded the highest increase in tourism receipts; highest spend recorded was by visitors from Saudi Arabia Merchant categories that witnessed growth included restaurants, airlines, and fashion apparel & accessories

According to the latest UAE Travel Snapshot released by Visa (NYSE:V), the world leader in digital payments, travellers visiting the UAE have increased their spend on Visa cards, indicating a positive uptick on the local economy.  Covering the period of January-December 2018 versus same period 2017, the report shows international Visa cardholders spent AED22.8 billion with their cards while visiting the UAE in 2018, a 4 per cent year-on-year (YoY) increase.

The total number of Visa card transactions by visitors to the UAE also grew by 22 per cent when compared to the previous year. As a market leader with the largest share of cards in the UAE, Visa’s analysis is based on a sample highly representative of overall spending trends.

Shahebaz Khan, UAE General Manager – Visa, commented: “Transactions growing much faster than spend suggests the UAE’s increasing appeal as a leading global destination for both mass and niche tourism. The UAE dirham being pegged to the US dollar, which saw strong performance in most of 2018, made the UAE more expensive for international travellers during the period we looked at for this report. Despite this, the UAE remained an attractive tourist destination for international travellers.”

Visa noted an 11% increase YoY in the number of internationally-issued Visa cards used in the UAE.  In terms of top source markets, visitors from Saudi Arabia, the United States of America, United Kingdom, China, Russia, Kuwait, India, Oman, Bahrain and Australia accounted for 68% of the total tourism spend. From the UAE's top 10 source markets, tourism spend by Russian visitors saw the highest YoY growth of 13%. Meanwhile, visitors from Saudi Arabia remained the biggest spenders with a total expenditure of AED4.9 billion, an increase of 9% YoY.

The results of Visa’s UAE Travel Snapshot show travellers are increasingly relying on card payments for transactions of various sizes, suggesting an increasing preference for the security and convenience of digital payments. It also reflects the wider acceptance network for card payments in the UAE which continues to see momentum.

In 2018, the government announced a series of initiatives to boost tourism, including promotion of family tourism using the timeshare system, reducing the tourism fee, introducing a VAT refund scheme for tourists and streamlining tourism visa regulations to attract first-time and repeat tourists.

Khan added: “While the growth in inbound tourism transactions signifies the resilience of the UAE’s tourism sector, it also shows that the UAE government’s measures to attract mass tourists to the country appear to have been effective. With significant projects underway ahead of Expo 2020, Visa looks forward to working with our government and merchant partners in the UAE to continue promoting the country as a tourist destination for everyone.”

Merchant categories that saw growth during the period of study include restaurants (up 30%), airlines (up 9%), and fashion apparel & accessories (up 9%). The luxury goods sector saw a decrease of 10% while leisure and entertainment remained flat. Visa cardholders recorded the highest value of tourism receipts during the traditional UAE travel season, between November and April (2017 and 2018), peaking in December and January for both years.