Over 2 lakh Indians visited Maldives annually in the last three years, the highest from any country post-COVID 19 pandemic, according to the official data amid calls from several quarters to boycott the island nation as a travel destination following a diplomatic row between the two nations.
According to the Maldives Tourism Ministry statistics, over 17 lakh tourists visited the island nation in 2023, out of which more than 2,09,198 visitors were Indians followed by Russians (2,09,146) and China (1,87,118).
The number of Indian visitors was more than 2.4 lakh in 2022 while over 2.11 lakh 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 that country during that period. In 2018, India was the fifth-largest source of tourist arrivals in the Maldives with 90,474 visitors. In 2019, India reached the second spot with 1.66 lakh Indians visiting that country.
However, this travel hotspot for Indians is now facing a backlash after three ministers from the Maldives cabinet made derogatory comments against Prime Minister Narendra Modi following his visit to Lakshadweep last week.
Many netizens on social media claimed that they have cancelled their scheduled trips to the Maldives because of the row with the hashtag “Boycott Maldives” trending. Joining the ‘boycott campaign’, EaseMyTrip, an online travel aggregator, said it has suspended all flight bookings to the island nation on its website “in solidarity” with India.
Meanwhile, the government of the Maldives suspended three of its deputy ministers on Sunday after they criticised Modi for his post on X following his visit to Lakshadweep, inferring that it was an attempt to project the Union Territory as an alternative tourist destination to the Maldives.
The Maldivian foreign ministry said the government is aware of “derogatory remarks” made on social media platforms against foreign leaders and that the personal views do not represent the country’s position.
Amid the row, many prominent personalities, such as cine stars Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar and cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, appealed to people on Sunday to explore “Indian islands” and coastal destinations.
Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is home to nearly 1,200 tiny coral islands that stretch along a length of 871 kilometers. From personalised spa treatments to adventure sports activities to world-class cuisine, the Maldives offers myriad experiences, making it a great choice for visitors.
The beautiful beaches and the island experience, coupled with affordable airfare that is even cheaper than the cost of travel to some Indian cities, have been a big draw for Indian tourists. Also on Monday, India summoned Maldivian envoy to the external affairs ministry here and conveyed strong concern over the remarks against the prime minister.
Former sports minister of the Maldives, Ahmed Mahloof, has expressed concern over the row, saying “Indians boycotting the Maldives” will hit the country hard.
“I am deeply worried about the escalating situation regarding the comments about our closest neighbour. Indians boycotting the Maldives would have a huge impact on our economy. It would be hard for us to recover from such a campaign. I call on the government to swiftly take serious action to solve the issue as soon as possible,” he said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the worldwide search interest for Lakshadweep reached its peak in the last 20 years, according to Google Trends. MakeMyTrip said it has observed a 3,400% increase in on-platform searches for Lakshadweep ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the islands.
Modi was in Lakshadweep on January 2 and 3 to inaugurate several projects.