DUBAI (Reuters) – Travellers to the United Arab Emirates spent 20.3 percent more with their Visa cards in 2010 compared with the previous year, as tourism recovered from the impact of the global financial crisis, a company executive said on Sunday.
Kamran Siddiqi, general manager for Visa Middle East, said company data showed international travellers spent $3.1 billion in the UAE, at $298 billion the second largest Arab economy.
“Significant infrastructure developments throughout the UAE have contributed towards this turnaround, and the UAE is forecast to experience some of the world’s strongest inbound tourism growth over the next five years,” he told Reuters.
Siddiqi declined to provide a forecast for this year. He said Visa cardholders from Britain, the United States and Russia continued to be the largest spenders in the OPEC member in 2010.
The UAE tourism industry and consumer spending was hard hit in the global financial turmoil, which triggered Dubai’s debt crisis in late 2009. Private expenditure accounted for around 59 percent of the UAE economy last year, the National Bureau of Statistics data showed.
Passenger traffic at Dubai International Airport — the world’s fourth busiest airport — rose 15 percent in 2010 as the global economy recovered. It was up 8.9 percent in the first half of 2011 despite high fuel costs and increased economic uncertainty in Europe and the United States.
Hotels in the UAE trade and tourism hub Dubai, known for the world’s tallest tower, reported a modest occupancy increase of 0.7 percent to 69.9 percent in May from the previous year.
Siddiqi said the UAE had also seen a sharp spending rise from emerging market cardholders such as those from China.
“In 2010, Chinese travellers spent 155.3 percent more in the UAE than they did in 2009. 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,” he said.
The UAE, the world’s No. 3 oil exporter, has been spared the political turmoil affecting nearby Bahrain, Oman and Yemen, drawing visitors to attractions such as the luxury Burj Al Arab hotel and an indoor ski slope.
Visa, which processes credit card payments in more than 200 countries, registered 14 percent growth in payment processing worldwide last year. Volumes jumped 19.5 percent in the Gulf compared with 2009, it said in April.
International tourist arrivals to the UAE are expected to grow by 7 percent to 13 million trips by 2015, Euromonitor International figures show. Analysts polled by Reuters in June expect the UAE economy to expand by 3.7 percent in 2011.