MasterCard reveals changing lifestyles


The MasterCard Worldwide Index initiative, the most comprehensive study of its kind conducted in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa (Samea), has revealed the details of its 2008 Consumer Lifestyles Survey.

In the Middle East, the research was conducted in Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Nearly 2,200 people between the ages of 18 and 64 participated in the survey.

Over the years this survey has been a barometer of the general pulse of the region and tracks trends such as credit card usage, ownership of a payment card, travel patterns and lifestyles.

For 2008, MasterCard’s research survey predicts July to be the most preferred month of travel in the region. Nearly 21 per cent of the polled people expressed their desire to travel in this month. This was followed by August, when 18 per cent of the respondents expressed their desire to travel. January is also a preferred month, with nearly 14 per cent expected to take a trip.

The survey strengthens the fact that most people in the region prefer to travel in the summer months to escape the heat or during Christmas and over the New Year.

However, the preferred destination varies from country to country, according to the survey. For example, this year India will remain the most preferred destination from the UAE (42 per cent) and Kuwait (22 per cent) due to the large Indian expatriate population in these two Gulf countries.

In Egypt, Malaysia will top the list with 10 per cent. Australia will be the most preferred destination for Saudi Arabia and Lebanon with 14 per cent and 19 per cent of the votes, respectively.

Travellers are expected to spend more on both personal and business travel this year. Barring Lebanon, this increase will be witnessed in all the other countries surveyed in the report.

In the UAE, 99 per cent of people said they will spend more on personal travel, as compared to 88 per cent in the second half of 2007.

People travelling on business are also expected to spend more. The survey predicts that in the first half of 2008 nearly 95 per cent of people will spend more as compared to 80 per cent in the second half of 2007.

According to the MasterCard survey, the main travel activity in the first half of 2008 will be entertainment – 64 per cent as compared to 59 per cent in the second half of 2007 – followed by shopping with 57 per cent as opposed to 55 per cent in the second half of 2007.

General sightseeing is the next most popular travel activity shown in the survey, with 52 per cent opting for it as against 37 per cent in the second half of last year.

The fewest number of respondents – nine per cent – expressed their desire to travel to experience different cultures. In the second half of 2007, such travellers were 17 per cent.

In the top shopping travel spend categories in the Middle East and Levant, most people will spend on apparel and personal effects (65 per cent), followed by luxury items such as jewellery and branded items (59 per cent).

The research also reveals the spending habits of consumers in the surveyed Middle East countries.

It is expected that the number of credit card holders will marginally fall this year from 48 per cent in the second half of 2007 to 47 per cent in the first half of the current year. The number of people with debit cards is expected to remain the same at 63 per cent. People with prepaid cards are expected to rise from 11 per cent to 12 per cent. In the UAE, the number of cardholders in all categories is expected to rise.

Credit cards and debit cards will be more popular methods of payment for overseas travel expenses in the first half of 2008.

Nearly 53 per cent of people surveyed in the Middle East and Levant are expected to use credit cards this year as compared to 51 per cent in the second half of 2007. Debit card usage is also expected to see a slight increase to 52 per cent from 50 per cent last year.

Travellers’ cheques and foreign notes will remain less popular methods of payment but in the UAE, both are expected to be more in use. The usage of travellers’ cheques is expected to go up to 25 per cent in the first half of 2008, from 18 per cent in the second half of 2007, and foreign notes are also expected to rise to 57 per cent from 49 per cent in the UAE in the same time period.

Across the polled countries in the Middle East, concern over security and safety when using credit cards is expected to fall marginally, to 74 per cent from 75 per cent. Other concerns include the wide level of acceptability of credit cards (63 per cent), convenience (60 per cent), and inadequate cash in wallet (52 per cent).

Customers also indicated a number of reasons for increasing their use of debit cards, saying the instrument allows them to spend what is in the bank account (70 per cent) and better control over spending (71 per cent). Consumers also said debit cards are more secure than cash (76 per cent), widely accepted (65 per cent) and convenient (67 per cent).