Spending by tourists on Visa cards in the UAE surged nearly 30 per cent last year to US$4 billion (Dh14.69bn) as the country welcomed record numbers of visitors to its shores.
Tourists from the United Kingdom retained the top spot as the biggest spenders in the Emirates, followed by visitors from Russia and the United States, according to Visa.
Visa credit and debit card holders from these three countries spent a total of $1.2bn on debit and credit cards last year. "This year's results made interesting reading as established markets still retain their allure, while developing countries are growing fast and looking for ways to spend their money," said Marcello Baricordi, the general manager in the UAE for Visa, which is largest retail electronic payments network in the world.
Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are aiming to increase the number of tourists visiting the country in the next few years, as both emirates begin expansions of their respective airports and host international sports and entertainment events.
Other emirates, including Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) and Sharjah, are also investing heavily in projects, such as the proposed $1bn Real Madrid resort in RAK.
The 9.3 million tourists who visited Dubai last year surpassed the 8.49 million of the previous year, while 7.2 million stayed in hotels, up from 6.5 million in 2010, said the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. (DTCM)
Abu Dhabi also reported record figures for tourists last year, with more than 2.1 million guests checking into hotels in the capital, which plans to attract 7.9 million hotels guests annually by 2030.
According to Visa, visitors from Saudi Arabia spent $326m on their cards last year, up 73.8 per cent from the previous year. Last year, Saudi Arabia was the biggest market for Dubai, which welcomed 873,152 visitors from the kingdom. India was the second-biggest market with 702,142 visitors, followed by the UK, Iran and the US.
Chinese Visa card holders were some of the biggest spenders last year, with a total of $225m swiped at the tills, which was up 72 per cent on 2010.
The Chinese also registered the highest increase in average transaction spend, up 29 per cent to more than $700 per transaction.
"It's also noticeable how Russia, China and the US are starting to become more prominent as airlines such as flydubai and Emirates expand their networks and consumers are increasingly coming to the UAE to take advantage of the luxury goods market," said Mr Baricordi.
Aside from heavy spending on general merchandise such as clothing and jewellery, Visa said the segment with the greatest growth last year was passenger ships and cruise lines, where spending was up 641 per cent from 2010.
The cruise industry is becoming a strategic cog in the UAE's tourism machine, having seen exceptional growth in the past 10 years.
In 2001, Dubai received 6,900 passengers on cruises but last year about 135 cruise ships berthed there with 375,000 tourists, said the DTCM.
Royal Caribbean cruise bookings from the Middle East surged 30 per cent in the first quarter despite a spate of safety scares, including the Costa Concordia disaster.
iPad users can follow our twitterfeed via Flipboard - just search for Ind_Insights on the app.