Skift Take

The #BoycottMaldives movement, fueled by a diplomatic dispute, should be of concern for the Maldivian government. After all, India is the archipelago's biggest tourism source market.

Indian online travel agency EaseMyTrip announced on Monday that it has suspended all flight bookings to Maldives in what its Co-Founder and CEO, Prashant Pitti, deemed was in “solidarity with the nation.”

Co-founder Prashant Pitti, wrote on LinkedIn, “Nation First Business Later. is letting go of 290,000 tickets that get annually booked for Maldives from India. Plus, we have made 5 beautiful packages live for Lakshadweep.”

On Monday, MakeMyTrip also announced the launch of a “Beaches of India” campaign.

All of Sunday #BoycottMaldives had been trending in Indian social media following a diplomatic dispute between the two countries. 

There had also been social media reports of cancellations of over 8000 hotel bookings and more than 2500 flight tickets by Indians to Maldives. When Skift spoke to a few travel companies on Sunday night, no cancellations were reported. However, by Monday morning some reports of cancellations trickled in.

The Backlash

“Two couples, who were scheduled to visit Maldives, have now asked me to find some other place for their holiday. I hope in the coming weeks or days we don’t see more such reactions. What Maldives did was irresponsible and not in good taste,” said Mahendra Vakharia, managing director of Ahmedabad-based Pathfinders Holidays.

Online travel agency and low-cost carrier Indigo told Skift that there have been no cancellations of bookings so far.

In a letter that Skift has access to, Subhash Goyal, chairman of the aviation and tourism committee of the Indian Chamber of Commerce, appealed to all tourism trade associations to stop promoting Maldives and also asked Indian carriers to suspend operations to the archipelago.

Speaking to Skift, Goyal said, “India helped resurrect Maldives’ tourism economy during Covid and even post that, but such remarks against our Prime Minister are totally uncalled for. We at STIC Travels (Goyal’s travel company) have stopped selling Maldives with immediate effect.”

What Led to The Boycott Cry?

Indians have accused Maldivian politicians of making disparaging remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, triggered by a social media controversy that emerged following Modi’s visit to the Lakshadweep islands.

Last week, Modi shared scenic pictures from his visit to the Indian archipelago of Lakshadweep on a social media platform X. In his post, the Prime Minister wrote, “For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list.”

MakeMyTrip reported a 3400% increase in on-platform searches for Lakshadweep following Modi’s visit.

Over the weekend, social media tweets portrayed Modi’s Lakshadweep visit as a suggestion for Indian tourists to consider alternative domestic destinations instead of the Maldives.

One such tweet called Maldives’ new government “Chinese puppet.”

In response to this, three deputy ministers on X used words such as “clown” and “puppet of Israel” to refer to Modi.

In light of their comments, the Maldives government said they’ve “suspended” the three deputy ministers — Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid. Subsequently, Majid deactivated his account on X.

India: The Biggest Tourism Source Market for Maldives

India was the biggest source market for tourism into the Maldives in 2023, with over 11% share in its 1.8 million tourism arrivals, according to the tourism ministry. Last year, Maldives welcomed 209,198 Indian arrivals, narrowly beating Russia’s 209,146 arrivals.

Maldives aims to attract over 2 million tourist arrivals in 2024. Tourism accounts for almost one-third of the Maldivian economy, according to World Bank.

The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators in a statement emphasized the significance to dispel any misconceptions, “The Indian market plays a pivotal role in the success of the Maldivian tourism sector, supporting guest houses and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that depend on the influx of Indian visitors.”

Highlighting that efforts to develop and foster Lakshwadeep island’s tourism sector has no discernible negative impact on the Maldives’ tourism industry, the association said, “Such development would prove complementary to Maldivian tourism, creating opportunities for both regions. The synergies between the two destinations can enhance the overall appeal for travelers and encourage more cruise liners to explore this vibrant and culturally rich region.”

Maldives’ Diplomatic Deviation

Former Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih criticized the “hateful language” employed by Maldivian government officials, emphasizing the friendship between the two countries. He urged against letting such derogatory remarks negatively impact the longstanding relationship between India and Maldives.

The new Maldivian government, led by President Mohamed Muizzu, assumed office in November of the previous year and had initially targeted Solih’s administration for its close ties with India.

President Muizzu’s departure from traditional diplomatic protocol, choosing to visit China before India, has also attracted attention highlighting the evolving dynamics in the region. Muizzu arrived in China for a four-day visit on Monday.

Muizzu’s administration has also requested an Indian security team to leave the archipelago. Subsequently, the Maldives announced its decision not to renew a bilateral hydrographic survey agreement set to expire this year.

The dispute between India and the Maldives has primarily unfolded on social media, with no official statement from the Indian government. However, on Monday, the Maldivian envoy to India was summoned by the external affairs ministry.


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Tags: asia monthly, easemytrip, flight cancellations, india outbound, indigo, makemytrip, maldives, online travel newsletter, yatra

Photo credit: A diplomatic dispute between India and Maldives has led to a Boycott Maldives campaign in social media. Asad Photo Maldives /">Pexels

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