What's The Next Big Thing In The UAE?

Using social media data to track consumer trends in the Middle East

If you want to get a sense of the changes taking place in the Middle East, you should probably start by looking at the United Arab Emirates. Dubai, in particular, is typically at the heart of these changes — it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, constantly maintaining its reputation as a leader for the latest in tech, shopping, culture, and fashion.

Indeed, Dubai is the most popular destination for Middle Eastern travellers, topping the regional wishlists ahead of closest rival and tourism heavyweight Egypt.

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In this post we’ll examine the latest social media conversations around current hot topics and consumer trends in the UAE, ranging from fitness and health to e-commerce and the sharing economy.

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Healthy social activity

A healthy lifestyle isn’t complete without fitness, and the UAE is unsurprisingly at the center of evolving exercise trends. Conversation around sport has grown more in the UAE than anywhere else in the Middle East.

In particular, the UAE population shows a growing taste for yoga, which accounts for 40% of all sports conversation and tops the list for biggest increase in conversation; 8% since 2012.

In contrast, talk of football has declined significantly — from 72.8% in 2012, to 60.4% in 2016. This is a surprising shift considering football’s global popularity, but another signal that Dubai in particular and the Middle East in general are constantly changing.

Not all activities have experienced football’s appreciable conversational decline, though: Crossfit, golf, and rugby have stayed relatively consistent, perhaps reflecting slowly growing niche audiences.

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Goodbye to the gas guzzlers

Big cars are king in the UAE, where fuel has traditionally been cheaper than bottled water. But rising awareness of alternative energy sources is reflected in the rise in social conversations around electric and hybrid cars, with volume increasing by 434% from 2012 to 2016.

This dramatic rise could result from growth in global media hype around certain brands, such as Tesla and Apple, which have only properly emerged into the spotlight over the last few years. Purchasing trends for electric or hybrid vehicles would spell a major shift in regional habits, but it appears that ample interest does exist.

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Sharing is caring

The sharing economy, particularly Airbnb and Uber, is another area where the UAE leads the way in social conversations across MENA. Conversation around Airbnb rose 1,248% between 2012 and 2016. Although this is low compared to other countries outside the Middle East, the trend is increasing steadily. It is stronger in UAE than in the rest of the region, with 34.4% of the overall discussion occurring here.

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While Airbnb lacks a homegrown competitor, the same can’t be said for Uber, which finds itself facing powerful local rival Careem. At present, Careem still holds the majority of positive local sentiment, 34% to Uber’s 19%. Careem also attracts just 4% of negative sentiment, whereas Uber stands at 11%.

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However, Uber still attracts significant local interest, featuring in a much higher volume of conversation than Careem; 70k post volume to Careem’s 18k. Uber would benefit from deeper market research to capitalise on consumers’ obvious interest.

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Developing trust

Part and parcel of the sharing economy is ecommerce and online payments, which are also much-discussed in the UAE. Lack of trust remains the top barrier,mentioned by 44% of respondents between 2012 and 2016. However, payment issues emerge at just 3%, suggesting online shoppers are happy with the payment methods available.

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Opinions on payment methods are in line with the rest of the region, showing heavy preference for credit or debit cards, followed by either cash or PayPal.

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What’s next for the UAE?

The UAE is clearly an influential leader in regional trends. If a new trend is going to take off in the Middle East, it’s likely to happen here first. Monitoring social conversation is the most effective approach for understanding this complex region and staying ahead of the curve.

To read more about the current trends in the UAE and the Middle East region, pre-register to receive our Middle East Consumer Trends Report when it comes out this Wednesday, March 1st!

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