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Mastercard Economics Institute: Consumer spending in Asia Pacific remains strong, despite rising costs


Amidst an ever-changing and unprecedented global economy, the choices consumers make in what, where and when they spend today may help reveal where we are headed next. The Mastercard Economics Institute’s “Shifting Wallets” report looks at how consumers across the world are holding tight to habits that offer convenience, experience, or both.

Asia Pacific has seen a sharp recovery in outbound travel following the re-opening of borders, despite the growing cost of air travel. This is notable in markets like Singapore and Australia, with strong demand persisting even beyond the initial loosening of restrictions. Equally, spending on experiences is continuing to exceed spending on things, reflected in the spending patterns for experiences including dining out or entertainment. Asia Pacific consumers are ordering from restaurants – both in-person or online – over making their own meals at home, with spending on restaurants up 16% in August 2022 from January 2022 levels, whilst grocery spending is down 5%.

“Consumers in Asia Pacific are looking to make up for lost time after a challenging few years,” said David Mann, Chief Economist of Mastercard AP & MEA. “The pent-up demand to see new places and experience new things is influencing consumer spend in a big way. With the ongoing prioritization of getaways, dining, entertainment, and experiences, we are expecting to see even more rebound in the travel and entertainment sectors.”

He added, “In addition, we’re seeing new opportunities for online businesses, as both goods and experiences spending shifts away from the weekends. As digital shopping and remote work continue to influence our daily habits, consumers will adjust and re-adjust their spending preferences to match the changing rhythm of our lives.”

Key findings include:
What: Consumers prioritize travel spending. Despite personnel shortages and a surge in crude oil prices pushing up the cost of air travel, spending on travel and experiences remains strong for consumers in APAC.

Singapore shows the greatest demand in APAC for international travel, with consumer flight bookings at more than 10% above 2019 levels as of June 2022, despite heightened logistical challenges and price pressures.2

In Australia, long haul flight bookings are up 92% in August 2022 compared to August 2019, and short haul flight bookings are up 155%.

Consumer spending in ASEAN is experiencing a recovery in the key categories of retail, travel and entertainment, with retail spend at 1.5x pre-pandemic levels as of June this year.

Where: Small businesses show gains in online services. Globally, large businesses dramatically outperform smaller ones in the shift to digital — but small online service providers in APAC are still finding ways to thrive.

In Singapore, small online business services—think tutoring, healthcare, and personal care services—rose over 3.5x compared to 2019.

However, the gap between large and small online businesses is particularly evident in the retail sector in more developed economies – e-commerce sales for Singapore’s large businesses grew 200% versus 59% for small online retailers in August 2022 compared to 2019. Similarly for Australia, large businesses grew 93% versus 24% for small online businesses.

When: Gone are designated days for spending. Working from home and the shift to digital have blurred the lines: date night is any night, and leisurely shopping trips are no longer limited to Saturday and Sunday. This has significant staffing and supply chain implications for retailers, restaurants, and other businesses.

Consumers in Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand have drifted away from weekend entertainment in 2022 as compared to 2019, beating the weekend crowd by going for weekday tickets and emptier theatres on Mondays and Tuesdays.

This blurring of lines from conventional weekend spend is also apparent in department stores. In Hong Kong, the share of spending on Saturdays and Sundays at department stores fell, by 1.22% and 1.42%, respectively, relative to 2019, whilst spending on Tuesdays rose 2.84%.

A similar effect was seen in retail-loving Singapore, where department store spending fell 2.80% and 2.46% on Fridays and Saturdays respectively, but increased 1.87% on Thursdays.

Conversely, eating places have seen a boom in weekend spend, with strong share shifts on Saturdays for Hong Kong, up 2.75%, Malaysia, up 2.10%, and Singapore, up 1.80%.

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