Indian boycott of Maldives tourism causing up to 80 per cent drop in seasonal earnings

The Indian boycott of Maldives tourism has caused a seasonal drop of 33 per cent in visitor arrivals and up to 80 per cent drop in earnings for Maldivian travel and tourism companies that largely rely on Indian visitors. These are the findings of a new media report in the island nation, quoting local businesses.

Mohamed Muizzu
President Mohamed Muizzu of the Maldives began an anti-India campaign soon after being elected. Photo courtesy: X/ @presidencymv

The boycott is one of the aspects of the decline in diplomatic relations between India and the Maldives, first started by Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu and then made worse by several of his ministers.

Three Maldivian deputy ministers in the Muizzu government had made extremely derogatory remarks in early 2024 against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, following the latter’s promotion of Lakshadweep as a tourism destination. This triggered a call in India to boycott the Maldives as a destination.

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

A full-blown backlash was directed at the Maldives following the remarks against the Prime Minister of India.

According to the Maldives Tourism Ministry statistics, over 1.7 million tourists visited the island nation in 2023, out of which 2,09,198 visitors were Indians, followed by Russians (2,09,146) and the Chinese (1,87,118).

The number of Indian visitors was more than 240,000 in 2022, while more than 211,000 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 the island nation during that period.

All that has changed since the remarks of the Maldivian ministers and the consequent Indian boycott.

The ministry data showed that tourist arrivals from India to the Maldives as of March 2 this year was 27,224, which was 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 has already flagged caution.

Explaining how India played a vital role in sustaining tourism-related receipts for the Maldives during off-peak season, the news portal said: “Indian travellers have a counter-travel pattern to European travellers; meaning Indian visitors [arrive in] 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.”

The website further reported how tourism industry experts and analysts had highlighted the adverse impacts of dwindling Indian arrivals to the Maldives — some had 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 that the Indian traveller market consisted of multiple demographics and segments, from affluent to budget travellers, and that India was 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”, said the news report, quoting Mohamed Mirshad, CEO of a major travel agency, Travel Connection Maldives.

The authorities are hoping that the resumption of direct flights between Hanimaadhoo International Airport in the Maldives and Thiruvananthapuram in the south Indian state of Kerala would bring back some of the visitor traffic 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.”