Maldives-India spat: Sharp fall in the number of Indian tourists to island nation | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Maldives-India spat: Sharp fall in the number of Indian tourists to island nation

Apr 19, 2024 11:06 AM IST

This comes amid ‘India Out’ campaign by Maldivian president Mohamed Muizzu and subsequent ‘Boycott Maldives’ trend from Indians.

Only 34,847 Indians arrived in the Maldives in the January to March quarter this year as compared to 56,208 Indian passengers in the same quarter last year. The numbers are a drop of 38 per cent and even lower than the Q1 of 2019 when 36,053 Indian passengers visited the Maldives. While India was the number one source market for Maldives post-Covid-19 from 2021 to 2023, the drop has started to be seen this year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Bangaram in Lakshadweep.(PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Bangaram in Lakshadweep.(PTI)

This comes amidst the “India Out” campaign by Maldivian president Mohamed Muizzu and the subsequent Boycott Maldives trend from Indians. The issue got more attention after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Lakshadweep islands and social media took to the trend of “Visit Lakshadweep” started along with “Boycott Maldives”. Not just Celebrities or social media influencers, but even online travel agencies decide to join the trend. A lot many doubted if the trend was real or it was just to join the social media frenzy. Numbers now indicate that the trend was real.

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Not only has India dropped as a source market, but the absolute numbers are also down. Chinese - which were the topmost inbound tourists to Maldives pre-Covid, have regained that title as China opens up more for tourists to travel out after nearly four years of embargos. China is possibly the last country in the world which still has embargoes in some form or another, formal or informal.

In 2018, just under 1 lakh Indians visited Maldives whereas 2.83 lakh Chinese tourists were recorded in Maldives, as per the data released by the tourism ministry of Maldives. While the Chinese numbers remained constant, Indians increased to 1.6 lakh in 2019. The year 2021 was the watershed year with 2.91 lakh Indians on the back of restrictions the world over for tourists due to Covid and Maldives being open, subject to RT-PCR tests. Only 2238 Chinese visited Maldives in 2021 as the Chinese were under strict lockdowns.

The first quarter of 2024 has seen both Indian and Chinese tourists being fewer than the 2019 benchmark, but over the previous year, while Indians are down nearly 40%, the Chinese have nearly tripled.

Flights have reduced as well

A look at the data shared by Cirium - an Aviation analytics company shows that the India - Maldives market saw 8 fewer flights per week in the January to March quarter of the year and saw a reduction of a little over 2,000 weekly seats. However, the frequencies have remained the same when compared to 2024, albeit with higher capacity on offer. This indicates that all is not well for the market.

An average week in the Q1 (Jan to Mar) this year saw 21 weekly flights by IndiGo, fourteen weekly by Vistara and six weekly by Air India. Maldivian operated 10 times a week in India. Compared to last year, IndiGo has pulled out of the Delhi-Male market, while Go FIRST shut down. It had 10 weekly flights to Male from India. Maldivian pulled out of Hanimaadhoo to Trivandrum route. Vistara did not operate pre-COVID, but SpiceJet and Go FIRST had larger operations and the same was the case with Maldivian.

The reduction in flights is a mix of seasonality, lack of aircraft and the demand trend, especially after the social media frenzy.

Nationalism the only cause?

Nationalism coupled with the availability of other options, at times at a much cheaper rate, is what is driving Indian tourism out of Maldives and the world over. With ease of visa for Vietnam and Indonesia, along with direct connectivity coupled with Visa-free travel to Thailand and Malaysia, the once famous Maldives not being as popular anymore becomes clear.

In the next month, there will be 57 weekly flights and 14,117 weekly seats each way between India and Vietnam on non-stop flights. For Indonesia, there are 21 weekly flights with 4697 weekly seats on offer. For Malaysia, there are 206 weekly flights and 38629 weekly seats on offer each way, while for Thailand these numbers stand at 266 weekly flights and 52696 seats each way. Compare that to Maldives which have only 47 weekly flights with 8108 seats each way.

Maldives is considered an expensive destination, with almost a resort per island setting. The COVID times were hard times for the hospitality industry and the mix of rate drop and acceptance during the pandemic saw travellers make the most of it. When rates are back to normal and the diplomatic climate is not the best, the visa-free regime in other countries is just the icing on the cake. With the Maldives tourism board planning roadshows in India, will it attract enough eyeballs to make a trip to the Maldives? We will have to wait for a while to see those numbers.

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