Skift Take

The Maldivian tourism minister's plea to Indian visitors highlights the critical role tourism plays in the country's economic framework. It also speaks volumes about India's outbound tourism potential.

It’s been four months since the #BoycottMaldives trend started in India, and Maldives wants those tourists back.

“As the tourism minister, I want to ask Indians to please be a part of Maldives’ tourism,” said Maldivian Tourism Minister Ibrahim Faisal to PTI Videos. “Our economy depends on tourism. Our people and the government will extend a warm welcome to Indian travelers.”

The tensions began when three Maldivian politicians made disparaging remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Indian arrivals have plummeted more than 40% since then — to roughly 44,000 so far this year.

India’s ranking from the second-largest tourism source market during this period last year to the sixth shows the impact of the diplomatic tensions.

Maldives wants to mend the relationship. “We have a history. The Indian government has been very helpful during our time of need. We welcome Indian arrivals that’s a clear message from us. Our newly elected government also wants to work together (with India) and promote peace and a friendly environment,” the Maldives tourism minister said.

Faisal also talked about how India’s large population presents a huge tourism market for Maldives.

What Started It All

The controversy arose after Modi’s visit to the Lakshadweep islands, with social media users suggesting that the visit was a push for Indian tourists to visit domestic destinations rather than international ones like Maldives.

The three Maldivian deputy ministers used words such as “clown” to refer to Modi, leading to the boycott.

Indian online travel agency EaseMyTrip announced that it would suspend all flight bookings to Maldives. Skift tried searching for flights on the EaseMyTrip platform on Wednesday and found none.

“Since mid-January, we’ve upheld our decision of suspending flights to the Maldives,” Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder, of EaseMyTrip, told Skift. “As a leading Indian online travel agency (OTA) and out of a sense of responsibility, we prioritized our commitment over the business opportunities and continue to stand by it.”

Maldives Wants Indian Tourists

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 brought in 209,198 Indian tourists.

The usually-reticent CEO of resort chain Soneva, Sonu Shivdasani, also wrote about the potential impact of the diplomatic stand off on the tourism industry, and hoped for a reconciliation.

Determined to increase Indian arrivals to the island destination, the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators, had shared with Skift its plans to host roadshows in 3 Indian cities in July.

“Properties and resorts that rely heavily on the Indian market have been severely affected. This will hurt us in the long term and that is why we have decided to engage with the India market,” Abdulla Ghiyas, president of the association told Skift.

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Tags: asia monthly, china outbound, easemytrip, india outbound, maldives, russia outbound

Photo credit: Tourism arrivals from India to Maldives continue to dip. Asad Photo Maldive / Pexels

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