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Maldives sees 33% drop in Indian tourists following diplomatic row

Male: There have been demands to heal fences with New Delhi because the island nation's tourism industry is already suffering from decreased income due to the exodus of Indian tourists from the Maldives.


Locals in India's tourist business are warning that the archipelagic nation's economy, which is heavily reliant on international tourism, is in jeopardy now that it has fallen to sixth place in 2024 after topping the charts in 2023.


On January 6, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared images and video from India's beautiful west coast, the Lakshadweep Islands, on his X handle. Three Maldivian officials responded by criticizing India and Modi on social media. This triggered a full-blown response against the Maldives.


The Maldives Tourism Ministry reports that in 2023, the island nation welcomed over 17 lakh tourists. Of these, over 2,09,198 came from India, followed by 2,09,146 from Russia, and 1,87,118 from China.


After more than 2.11 lakh Indians flew to the Maldives in 2021, the number of Indian visitors in 2022 was above 2.4 lakh. Nearly 63,000 Indians visited the Maldives during the pandemic, as it was one of the few countries that allowed international tourism.


According to data compiled by the Ministry of Tourism, India was the sixth most popular tourist destination in 2024, down from first place in 2020 (when Indian tourists continued to visit the island nation despite the pandemic).


Tourist arrivals from India as of March 2 were 27,224, according to Ministry data that was last updated around 10 days ago. This represents a 33 percent decrease from last year, when the same figure was 41,224.


Local travel operators are understandably wary of the growth and have issued warnings.


"Indian travellers have a counter-travel pattern to European travellers; meaning Indian visitors frequent to the Maldives during hot seasons, which coincides with a drop in European market arrivals," a news portal Sun.mv explained, highlighting the crucial role India plays in maintaining tourism-related receipts to the state during off-peak season. So, when it comes to the off-peak season for tourism in the Maldives, India is by far the biggest "filler."


Additionally, on Tuesday, it was reported that analysts and professionals in the tourist business have pointed out the negative effects of declining Indian arrivals to the Maldives, with some estimating losses of about USD 1.8 billion to USD 2 billion.


Revenue for travel firms and operators dependent on Indian visitors has dropped by 80%, which is a worrying trend, according to the report.


The website cited an official from the well-known travel firm "Let's Go Maldives" as saying that there are many different types of Indian tourists, from those with plenty of disposable income to those on a tighter budget, and that the country is particularly busy during the summer months.


The occupancy rate takes a hit when India isn't considered. The official went on to say that this market is vital to their company.


According to a news report quoting Mohamed Mirshad, CEO of Travel Connection Maldives, a prominent travel agency in the country, "the arrival of affluent and wealthy Indian-origin travelers from other nations as well as the Maldives has declined," further indicating that the Indian market is not contributing to the Maldives' tourism industry.


Officials in the Maldives are crossing their fingers that an influx of Indian tourists will follow the restoration of direct flights from India's Thiruvananthapuram to the country's Hanimaadhoo International Airport.


The island nation should take advantage of this time to make amends with its friend. It stands to reason that smaller nations rely on their larger allies for protection. According to Sun.mv, the Maldives would not benefit from any action that goes against the grain, as shown by the statistics and income of the tourism business as it is.


Arrogance would do more harm than good to our already fragile economy. "The key to avoiding future pain is accepting yourself, flaws and all, as well as the reality of the world around you," it said.

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