Visa says tourists spent 20 per cent more in UAE year on year. British top list once more but Chinese travellers more than double their outlay to $130 million.
Credit card spending picks up again
In a boon for the UAE's tourism industry, international visitors last year charged up their credit cards with renewed vigour.
Foreign travellers spent US$3.1 billion (Dh11.38bn) on their Visa-branded cards while travelling through the Emirates last year, up more than 20 per cent from 2009, according to a report released by Visa, which oversees the world's largest retail electronics payment network.
"Tourism in the UAE has bounced back following a slow few years as a result of the global economic downturn," said Kamran Siddiqi, the general manager for Visa Middle East.
"Dubai and Abu Dhabi have worked to continue to grow their appeal as a destination for people from all nationalities."
British visitors remained the biggest spenders last year, contributing $441.2 million to the economy. That amount rose nearly 10 per cent from 2009, despite the spluttering UK economy.
But in a sign that more people from developing economies are becoming wealthier jet-setters, travellers from emerging markets last year increased the amount they spent by the biggest margins.
Visitors from Angola more than tripled their charges, to $87.9m, while those from China more than doubled their spending, from $51.1m in 2009 to more than $130m last year.
"Luxury retailers noted the rise in Chinese visitors that began in 2010 shows no signs of abating as an increasing number of Chinese tourists are looking for high-end luxury goods," said Mr Siddiqi.
Revenues also rose more than 35 per cent from visitors travelling from other developing markets such as India ($126.8m), Russia ($238.1m) and Kazakhstan ($101.2m).
"Growth in these countries is still at a relatively early stage, which offers some interesting opportunities for the UAE's tourism industry in the years to come," said Mr Siddiqi. "Naturally, when countries begin to see economic improvements domestically this has a knock-on effect on overseas travel."
Yet, certain sectors within the UAE's economy fared better than others when it came to the overall surge in spending by Visa cardholders. Dirhams doled out for designer clothing, shoes and other wares from department stores, increased nearly 49 per cent, to $93.6m.
Sums spent on food at supermarkets, as well as gadgets at consumer electronics shops, also climbed substantially, rising more than 10 per cent in each category. Supermarkets brought in $63.7m in revenues, while radio, television and stereo stores earned $55.7m.
High-profile additions to the hotel and lodging market has also boosted revenues flowing to the tourism sector.
Visitors from the UK, US and Saudi Arabia were by far the biggest spenders in the accommodation category, contributing more than 38 per cent of the $716.5m total.
Not all sectors reported improved spending, however. Airline ticket sales paid for by Visa cards tumbled 14.6 per cent, to $59.9m. Bookings at car-rental agencies were also down, with income falling 4.6 per cent, to $41.7m, on Visa cards.
Companies involved in the tourism industry, however, are generally expected to find spending has risen during the last half of the year, as the peak months for travel to the UAE are "inextricably linked to the weather, with most travellers preferring to visit the Emirates [during] cooler months", according to Visa.
Next month may be particularly busy. Last year, credit card charges made in September rose 34.6 per cent compared with the same month in 2009, which was the largest increase for any month last year.