Maldives is in hot water over calls by Indian celebrities for a boycott of the tropical beach destination, following “derogatory remarks” about Prime Minister Narendra Modi by government ministers.
| Photo Credit: Shubham KOUL / AFP
During a recent visit to Lakshadweep, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared photos of his trip on social media. Several users responded comparing the islands with the Maldives, located further down south in the Indian Ocean. This became a diplomatic row when three deputy ministers at the Youth Ministry of Maldives — Malsha Shareef, Maryam Shiuna and Mahzoom Majid — also commented on the posts on X making disparaging remarks against India and Mr. Modi. The Maldivian foreign ministry distanced itself from their remarks, saying their personal views did not represent the country’s position. The Maldivian government suspended them.
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Meanwhile, the comments led to an uproar on Indian social media, with many claiming that they were cancelling their scheduled trips to the Maldives. Whether this actually has an impact on tourist arrivals in the Maldives is yet to be seen. Indian celebrities also urged people to explore domestic tourist destinations, including Lakshadweep. A former sports minister of the Maldives, Ahmed Mahloof, expressed concern over the row saying “Indians boycotting the Maldives” will hit the country hard.
The strong reaction from the Maldivian government to the statements of the ministers is unsurprising as tourism is a major source of revenue for the archipelago. The number of hotels in the Maldives as well as tourist arrivals have grown significantly in recent years (Chart 1). The number of resorts shot up from 88 to 172, beds for tourists from over 16,000 to about 60,000, and tourist arrivals from 6 lakh to over 16 lakh in the period.
Chart 1 shows the number of resorts (including marinas), number of beds for tourists, and tourist arrivals between 2006 and 2022.
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Chart 2 shows tourism revenue in million Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR) and the tourism industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP (%) at constant prices between 2006 and 2022.
In this period, the tourism revenue increased from 1,777 million MVR to 10,430 million MVR — a staggering 487% rise. Tourism continues to contribute over 20% of the country’s GDP.
The high dependency on tourism was cited in a recent blog by the Asian Development Bank, which called for diversification of the Maldivian economy. In the 1980s, tourism contributed to only 13% of the GDP with fishing and agriculture being the main economic activities, the blog stated. In fact, the tourism industry may directly account for 20% of the GDP now, but the indirect contribution was as high as 80%, the blog said.
The timing of the ‘boycott’ calls on social media could also be a concern for the Maldivian government. If the 2022 data are taken as an example, the number of beds occupied over a month in resorts and hotels peaked in the January- March period, as shown in Chart 3. The number of tourist vessels operating also peaked in March and April. If the trends from the 2022 season are of any indication, a boycott call during the 2024 holiday season could result in serious revenue losses for the Maldives.
Chart 3 shows month-wise number of beds occupied in resorts, hotels, guest houses and tourist vessels in 2022.
Indians contributed the most to tourism in the Maldives for three years consecutively (2020, 2021 and 2022) as shown in Table 4. India was placed fifth or lower before 2019. But since then, India has consistently occupied the top two positions. In 2023, Indian tourists formed close to 11% of the total arrivals, second only to Russians. If the calls on social media to ‘boycott’ the Maldives leads to a drop in Indian tourists to the archipelago, it could take a toll on the Maldivian economy.
Table 4 shows the top 10 nations in terms of citizenship of tourists who arrived in the Maldives between 2014 and 2023.
Source: Maldives tourism Ministry and Maldives Bureau of Statistics
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