Tourism & Travel

    Maldives sees 33% drop in Indian tourists following diplomatic row

    The Hawk
    March14/ 2024
    Last Updated:

    The decline in Indian visitors, once the top source of tourism for the Maldives, has prompted urgent calls for rebuilding ties with India to prevent further revenue losses and sustain the tourism sector.

    Maldives tourism

    Male: Indian tourists, who used to flock to the Maldives, are now shunning the island nation and its tourism industry is already feeling the pinch of declined revenue, prompting calls for mending the fence with New Delhi.

    India has slipped to sixth position in 2024 compared to being a topper in visitor numbers in 2023, prompting voices from the local tourism industry to flag the danger for the tourism-dependent economy of the archipelagic country in the Indian Ocean.

    A full-blown backlash was directed at the Maldives following derogatory remarks against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media by three Maldivian officials after Modi posted photos and video of the pristine Lakshadweep Islands on India’s west coast on January 6 on his X handle.

    According to the Maldives Tourism Ministry statistics, over 17 lakh tourists visited the island nation in 2023, out of which more than 2,09,198 visitors were Indians followed by Russians (2,09,146) and China (1,87,118).

    The number of Indian visitors was more than 2.4 lakh in 2022 while over 2.11 lakh Indians flew to the Maldives in 2021. The Maldives was also one of the few countries open for international tourists during the pandemic and nearly 63,000 Indians visited that country during that period.

    India occupied the sixth spot in tourist arrivals in 2024, the Ministry’s statistics showed, compared to the consistent first spot since 2020 with Indian tourists visiting the island nation even during the pandemic time.

    Till about 10 days ago, the Ministry data showed that tourist arrivals from India as of March 2 was 27,224, which is a 33 per cent decline compared to last year when the corresponding number stood at 41,224.

    The local tourism industry is worried about the development and already flagged caution.

    Explaining how India plays a vital role in sustaining tourism-related receipts to the state during off-peak season, a news portal said: “Indian travellers have a counter-travel pattern to European travellers; meaning Indian visitors frequent to the Maldives during hot seasons, which coincides with a drop in European market arrivals. In other words, India is the most significant 'filler' for the Maldives tourism off-peak season."

    It further reported on Tuesday, how, tourism industry experts and analysts have highlighted the adverse impacts of dwindling Indian arrivals to the Maldives, while some have forecast estimated losses north of USD 1.8 billion to USD 2 billion.

    “Travel agencies and operators relying on Indian arrivals report a revenue decline of 80 per cent - a dangerous prospect,” the report said.

    Quoting an official from ‘Let's Go Maldives’, a prominent travel agency, the portal said, the Indian traveller market consists of multiple demographics and segments from affluent to budget travellers and India is a large summer market.

    “Without India, the occupancy rate is impacted negatively. This makes it a crucial market for us,” the official added.

    It is not just the Indian passport holders that have boycotted the Maldives but “the arrival of affluent and wealthy Indian-origin travellers from other nations as well has declined, which too indicated the contribution of the Indian market in Maldives tourism, the news report said quoting a prominent travel agency, Travel Connection Maldives' CEO Mohamed Mirshad.

    Authorities are hoping that the resumption of direct flights between Hanimaadhoo International Airport in Maldives and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala state of India would bring back some more visitors from India.

    "This is the most opportune moment for the island nation to mend fences with its ally. It is also logical that the smaller countries are in need of security and safety ensured by their larger allies. Any conduct to the contrary would not result fortuitously for the Maldives, as evident with the current tourism industry statistics and revenues," said.

    “Arrogance will not benefit us, it would damage the sensitive economy of the country even further. True wisdom lies in accepting one's own weaknesses and strengths, and the reality that we live in to avoid any future brunt,” it added.