Use of Visa cards continues to rise dramatically in the three Baltic countries, with Latvians displaying a particularly robust fondness for using their cards both for cash advances and purchases of goods and services.
According to Visa International, this summer Latvians vacationing abroad went on a wild spending spree, racking up expenditures of over $38 million on their Visa cards, a 24 percent increase from the summer of 2001.
By comparison, Estonians who traveled abroad spent only $11 million, while charge-card skeptical Lithuanians spent a mere $10.3 million.
Latvians have embraced their Visa cards not only while on holiday, but at home as well. In the year up to June 2002 they made total transactions worth over $337 million, a remarkable 67 percent increase year-on-year. The total number of transactions with Visa cards increased from 2.6 million to 5.7 million over the respective periods, a whopping 122 percent increase.
Ivan Remsik, Visa International vicepresident for the Central Europe, Middle East and Africa division, said that the number of Visa cards issued in Latvia doubled in the year to June 2002, reaching 330,000.
"Latvia is part of the CEMEA region which is developing most rapidly," said Remsik.
Last year worldwide holders of more than 1.2 billion Visa cards - accepted at over 25 million locations - spent $2 trillion.
In the Baltic region, Latvians use their cards to buy goods and services more often than Estonians or Lithuanians, who prefer to make cash withdrawals, explained Remsik. If 45 percent of all transactions made in Latvia were payments, then that number is 44 percent in Lithuania and 35 percent in Estonia.
In Poland, by contrast, payments make up 26 percent of all Visa card transactions, while in Russia the number is 18 percent.
Latvians with Visa cards spent most of their money this summer in Russia ($3.7 million), followed by Germany, the United States and France.
Piotr Szczepaniak, Visa International's country manager for the Baltics, said, "The increase in international summer spending is the result of a dramatic increase of Visa payment cards in Latvia and an unparalleled worldwide acceptance network."
Szczepaniak added, "Latvian travelers are realizing that they can use their Visa cards abroad the same as in Latvia and that using a Visa card on holiday is much safer and much more convenient than taking cash."
Iveta Kelpe, public relations project director at Consensus PR for Visa International in the Baltics, said that although Latvians earned less than either Estonians or Lithuanians, they were not shy about using their cards. "Latvians love to travel, and they love to spend money," she said.