Let Maldives be. It isn’t even among Top 10 foreign destinations of Indian travellers


This isn’t about hyper-nationalism, but plain facts and data. The Maldivian economy needs India for tourism, while the Maldives doesn’t even feature in the Top 10 destinations of outbound Indian travellers. What’s more, the Maldives isn’t even among the top searches for those planning a holiday.

How did the sun-kissed beaches of the Maldives catch the imagination of selfie-crazy Indians? And if Maldives isn’t among the Top 10 places that Indians are travelling to, then where are they headed? We will also find out which were the top destinations that Indians searched for in the year gone by (2023) to firm up their holiday plans.

The Maldives has been brought into every drawing room discussion and TV debate after some of its ministers abused Indians and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

INDIA-MALDIVES CONTROVERSY IN BRIEF

It all started with an unrelated trip to Lakshadweep by PM Modi and the sharing of images of its pristine landscape. Chatter on the internet and some media reports associated the promotion of Lakshadweep as a tourist destination as a counter to the Maldives. Three Maldivian lawmakers somehow got triggered and posted derogatory and racist comments against Indians and PM Modi.

This led to a massive backlash against the Maldives from India and ‘Boycott Maldives’ started trending. Lakshadweep, meanwhile, saw a massive jump in interest among holidayers.

The Maldivian government “suspended” the three lawmakers even as the controversy took the shape of a diplomatic issue. Former Maldivian Presidents and ministers were fast to try to control the damage.

The damage control was a must, given the importance that India has gained for the tourism-dependent economy of the Maldives, a country of which New Delhi has been a traditional friend. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, India helped the Maldivian people and the government with aid and medicines. The Maldives is of geostrategic interest to India and President Mohamed Muizzu is seen to have been elected with China’s backing.

Leaving politics and geo-strategy aside, why are Indians so important for the Maldives? And since when did Indians start flocking to the Maldives?

HOW INDIANS MATTER TO MALDIVIAN ECONOMY

Amid the ‘Boycott Maldives’ calls, a look at the data from the tourism ministries of both countries shows a very lopsided relationship.

According to the World Bank, approximately one-third of the Maldivian economy is dependent on tourism.

For the Maldives, India is the top source country for tourists. Russia is second.

Over two lakh tourists from India went to the Maldives in 2023 for their holidays. Though two lakh tourists are like drops in a bucket, if not the ocean, for India, for the Maldives they comprise an 11th of its visitors.

Therefore, for a country whose economy is over-reliant on tourism, the calls for a boycott by Indians would be concerning.

Over two lakh Indian tourists visited the Maldives in 2023, according to the Maldivian Tourism Department.

SINCE WHEN INDIANS STARTED HOLIDAYING IN THE MALDIVES

It turns out that the number of Indian tourists to the Maldives has increased considerably over the years.

The number of Indian tourists to the island country rose from 90,474 in 2018 to over two lakh in 2023, according to the data by the Tourism Ministry of the Maldives. From accounting for 6.1% of the total number of tourists in the Maldives, the share of Indian tourists rose to over 11% in 2023.

What is interesting here is the sudden rise of the Maldives as a hot tourist destination for Indians. How did the Maldives actually get so popular?

India ranks 80th on the Henley Passport Index with 62 countries giving its citizens visa-free entry. The Maldives is one of those 62 countries.

What is evident from the data (in the graphic above) is that 2021 was an outlier when it comes to Indians visiting the Maldives. Why did the numbers see such a jump?

The world was slowly emerging from the Covid-induced lockdown but the shadow still remained, mostly on tour and travel.

With visa-free access to a location that could feed the travel-starved Instagram profiles, wealthy Indians started flocking to the Maldives. It was also not within the reach of the hoi polloi.

It was, in fact, the celebrities and the elites whose Instagram stories and posts fired up the imagination of Indians for the Maldives.

Bollywood actors Disha Patani and Tiger Shroff became the faces of steamy Maldivian vacations. Social media influencers followed soon!

Tiger Shroff and Disha Patani in the Maldives. (Image: Instagram)

On its part, the Maldivian tourism industry roped in Indian celebrities and influencers to get the island destination promoted among Indian holidayers.

Given Maldive’s visa-eased visa norms and proximity to India, it became an instant hit.

Having spent months locked up, it was time for some ‘revenge tourism,’ which got reflected in the numbers as well. In 2021, close to three lakh Indians visited the Maldives, the highest ever in recent times. The number accounted for a whopping 22% of the Island’s arrivals.

The trend continued in 2022 and 2023, and Indians were the single-largest nationality to visit the Maldives last year.

TOP 10 TRAVEL DESTINATIONS FOR INDIANS

From an Indian perspective, the number of tourists travelling to the Maldives is relatively low, in absolute terms.

The Maldives does not even make it to the Top 10 overseas tourist destinations preferred by Indians in 2022, the year for which the latest data is available (see chart below).

Top 10 destinations for Indian travellers in 2022, according to Tourism Ministry data.

Destinations like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Singapore and Thailand were among the top destinations, according to data put out by the Ministry of Tourism of the Indian government.

To place the numbers in perspective, 10th on the list was Oman, with 7.72 lakh Indians travelling there, which is any day 3 to 4 times, the tourists to the Maldives.

One thing that needs to be remembered here is the amount of money spent by Indians in the Maldives. According to data, an Indian spends approximately $750 on her holiday in the Maldives. That is money flowing out.

By promoting Lakshadweep, which is part of the same geographical formation as the Maldives, the government can get Indians to spend at home. After ‘Make in India’ and ‘Wed in India’, which PM Modi pitched for in recent times, ‘Holiday in India’ could see a big push.

WHERE INDIANS ARE PLANNING TO HOLIDAY

What also has to be noticed is that the Maldives, which is an expensive holiday destination, isn’t even on the search list of most Indians planning their holiday.

The Maldives doesn’t feature among the top travel destinations searched by Indians in 2023, according to Google data.

The latest Google search report for 2023, released in December, shows destinations like Vietnam, Bali, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Italy as the most-desired foreign tourist destinations for Indians. The Maldives fails to feature on this list.

To sum it all up, and strictly speaking about tourism here, Indians matter much to Maldivians, but the Maldives isn’t even on the radar of most Indians.

Published By:

Sushim Mukul

Published On:

Jan 11, 2024



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