Diplomatic Rift Between Bharat and Maldives Significantly Damaging Island Nation’s Economy


Paromita Das

GG News Bureau
New Delhi, 22nd April. 
A significant portion of Bharatiya visitors have chosen not to visit the island nation as a result of the diplomatic rift between Bharat and the Maldives, as well as the ensuing India Out and Boycott Maldives campaigns, which were spearheaded by the Muizzu government and India, respectively, significantly damaging the island nation’s economy.

From January to March of this year, there were 34,847 fewer Bharatiya arrivals in the Maldives than there were during the same period last year—56,208 Bharatiya passengers. The figures represent a 38% decline and are even lower than the 36,053 Bharatiya travelers that traveled to the Maldives in the first quarter of 2019. Bharat was the Maldives’ top source market after COVID from 2021 to 2023, however this year has seen a decline in that position.

This coincides with the Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s “India Out” campaign and the ensuing Bharatiya boycott of the Maldives.  PM Modi’s visit to the Lakshadweep Islands and the subsequent social media trend of Visit Lakshadweep and Boycott Maldives brought increased attention to the issue. Not only did celebrities and social media influencers join the trend, but online travel businesses also did so.

Numbers now show that the trend was real, despite the doubts of many who were only joining the social media frenzy and questioning if it was real or phony. Bharat’s share of the source market has decreased, but so have the total numbers.

Maldives’s economy affected due to diplomatic relations

With the two countries’ parliamentary elections coming up, particularly the former, strategic analysts in both countries are optimistic yet still holding out hope for the future of bilateral relations between the Maldives and Bharat. In other words, over the next few weeks, months, and years, positivity and even more objectivity may gradually replace the negative of the previous several months, especially that which has come from the Maldivian side.

The official stance, as “stated” by Bharat, was a fairly silent but effective posturing during the entire altercation. Instead, all of the critical remarks and formal measures that may have permanently “killed” bilateral ties went unanswered. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has breathed new life into the nation’s value-based “Neighbourhood First” ethics through words and acts, and Bharat has only replied with bountiful optimism through actions. This is especially true in the case of the Maldives, a “smaller neighbor.”

Thus, the Modi administration accepted President-elect Mohamed Muizzu’s declaration during his campaign that Bharat would remove the military pilots and technicians who had been stationed on the three aircraft platforms that Bharat had given to the world over the previous ten years. Since then, Muizzu has declared that, per their agreement, the second of three batches of Bharatiya employees has departed the Maldives. The third is scheduled to leave in May, and civilian “technical personnel” will take their place.

How is Maldives’s tourism affected?

After almost four years of a legal or informal travel ban, the Chinese, who were the island nation’s most popular inbound tourists prior to COVID, have reclaimed the top spot. Less than one lakh Bharatiya traveled to the Maldives in 2018, but 2.83 lakh Chinese tourists were registered there. In 2019, there were 1.6 lakh more Bharatiyas than Chinese, but Chinese numbers were the same.

Due to global travel restrictions brought about by Covid and the Maldives’ openness to RT-PCR tests, 2021 marked a turning point for 2.91 lakh Bharatiya. In 2021, there were only 2238 Chinese visitors to the Maldives due to stringent lockdowns. Chinese and Bharatiya travelers both fell short of the 2019 record in the first quarter of 2024, but over the same period last year, Chinese tourists nearly tripled while Bharatiya tourists decreased by almost 40%.

According to data presented by aviation analytics company Cirium, there were eight fewer weekly flights and over 2,000 fewer tickets available in the Bharat-Maldives market between January and March of this year. When compared to 2024, the frequencies haven’t changed, despite the larger capacity being offered. This suggests that the market is not doing well.

The number of Bharatiya tourists traveling to the Maldives between January and March of 2024 decreased by almost 40% as compared to data from the same time in 2023. Concurrently, the total number of Chinese visitors rose by nearly 200%.

The Maldives’ monthly report on visitor arrivals was just provided by the Ministry of Tourism. The data showed how many people visited the island nation between January and March of this year.

The statistics indicate that 56,208 Bharatiya tourists visited the Maldives between January and March of 2023. Between January and March of 2024, the number dropped to 34,847. This was a reduction of 38% from 2023.

Meanwhile, 17,691 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives from January to March of 2023. Between January and March of 2024, the number climbed to 67,399, representing a 281 percent peak.

China leads the Maldives tourism industry with an 11 percent stake, according to the latest data, while Bharat comes in sixth place among the top ten.

Bharatiya tourists are leaving the Maldives and other parts of the world due to nationalism and the sometimes-cheaper availability of alternative options. It is becoming evident that the once-famous Maldives are no longer as popular as they once were due to the simplicity of obtaining a visa for Vietnam and Indonesia, direct connectivity, and visa-free travel to Thailand and Malaysia.

Since the Maldives formerly relied heavily on Bharat for information relating to tourism, the information is significant. Bharatiya came in second only to Russians in the statistic showing the nationality-wise arrivals of visitors in the Maldives from January to November 2023. Unlike China, Bharat experienced an increase in immigration in 2020.

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