India drops to 5th position on Maldives’ top 10 tourism markets, China at 3

The Maldives, renowned for its pristine beaches and luxury tourism, has witnessed a significant shift in its tourist demographics, with Indian visitors dropping from the third to the fifth largest group within three weeks, according to data from the Maldives’ tourism ministry.

Tourists sunbathe in Paradise island resort in Male atoll, Maldives,(AP / File)

This shift coincides with escalating diplomatic tensions between India and the Maldives following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the Indian archipelago in the Arabian Sea.

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Indian tourists have long been a key demographic for the Maldives, comprising nearly 11% of its tourism market in 2023. However, the recent controversy surrounding Modi’s beach excursion to Lakshadweep on January 2 stirred up a storm, leading to a notable decline in Indian tourist numbers.

What’s the controversy?

Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep and his subsequent social media posts were interpreted by some in the Maldives as a strategic move to divert tourists away from their nation. Three junior ministers in the Mohamed Muizzu government posted derogatory comments against the prime minister, sparking a wave of anti-Maldives sentiment on social media platforms in India.

The hashtag #BoycottMaldives started trending on social media, accompanied by reports of cancelled trips to the island nation. An Indian travel portal EaseMyTrip suspended bookings for flights to the Maldives in solidarity with the nation.

The Maldives officials later deleted their posts and were suspended by the country’s president for posting derogatory comments against India. Maldives foreign minister Moosa Zameer called the officials’ remarks “unacceptable,” and said his country is committed to “fostering a positive and constructive dialogue with our partners.”

“The government of Maldives can’t afford to have a spat with India, and it will be an economic suicide. Everybody should see this,” said Shaheed.

Decline in India’s share

According to the Maldives tourism website, India started 2024 as the third largest contributor to its tourism with a 7.1 per cent market share while China was not even in the top 10 markets list.

The numbers, however, witnessed an abrupt change after the diplomatic tensions. While India’s market share for Maldives tourism stood at 8 per cent as of Jan 28, China and the UK surpassed the country, taking 3rd and 4th place respectively in the top 10 list.

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