The month of January saw a significant change in the tourist demographics of Maldives, with visitors from neighbouring India dropping from the second spot in December 2023 to the fifth this month.
The dip in Indian tourists visiting the Maldives, known for crystal-clear turquoise waters, pristine white sand beaches, and lush greenery, came after three ministers from the archipelago nation made over the derogatory remarks made by Maldivian ministers against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India.
The low-key diplomatic row erupted after Modi posted beautiful pictures of Lakshadweep during his visit in the first week of January, triggering netizens to trend “Lakshadweep vs Maldives” and ministers, who were later suspended from President Mohamed Muizzu’s cabinet, jumped into the social media debate.
Dip In Indian Tourists To Maldives
As per the data of Maldives’ tourism ministry, 13,989 Indians visited Maldives in January (till January 28) out of a total of 174,400 arrivals, dropping to the fifth spot with 8% tourist market share of the archipelago nation.
Russia (18,561), Italy (18,111), China (16,529) and the UK (14,588) secured the top four spots of nations which sent most tourists to Maldives in January 2024.
In December 2023, Russia was at the first spot with 174,416 Russians arriving in Maldives and a 24.1% market share. India was at second with 161,751 tourists and 23.4% share.
In 2023, Indians formed the largest group of tourists with 209,193 travellers, followed by Russians (209,146) and the Chinese (187,125). In 2021 and 2022, India continued as the top market with over 2.91 lakh and 2.41 lakh Indian tourist arrivals.
However, the share of Indian tourists to the Maldives has been declining from 241,382 in 2022 to 209,193 in 2023.
Controversy & ‘Maldives Boycott’
A series of photographs posted on January 4 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi staring pensively out into the Arabian Sea surrounded by Lakshadweep’s coastal splendour set off a social media war between India and the Maldives and also triggered a low-key diplomatic row between the two friendly countries.
The row was mainly triggered by a senior minister in the Muizzu-led government, Abdulla Mahzoom Majid, who accused India of targeting the Maldives. He said India faces significant challenges in competing with the Maldives when it comes to beach tourism.
Recently, I had the opportunity to be among the people of Lakshadweep. I am still in awe of the stunning beauty of its islands and the incredible warmth of its people. I had the opportunity to interact with people in Agatti, Bangaram and Kavaratti. I thank the people of the… pic.twitter.com/tYW5Cvgi8N— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 4, 2024
His tweet came after PM Modi put out his Lakshadweep post, which went viral and prompted many social media users to suggest that the union territory could be an alternate tourist destination to the Maldives.
Mariyam Shiuna, deputy minister of youth empowerment, information and arts, and Malsha Sharif, another deputy minister in the same ministry, joined Majid in the controversy.
While the Maldivian government distanced itself from “derogatory remarks on social media platforms against foreign leaders and high-ranking individuals”, it also suspended three government officials whose comments on social media platform X seemingly triggered the row in the first place.
The social media war led to en-masse cancellations of trips to the Maldives by Indians. Also running on social media is ‘Boycott Maldives’. There are several Indians who have cancelled their bookings.
Indian cine stars such as Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Shraddha Kapoor along with other prominent personalities also appealed to fans to “explore Indian islands” and coastal destinations.