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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Luxury destination faces tourism boycott calls over Modi ‘insults’

The Maldives faces uncertainty after “derogatory” remarks made by officials about the Indian PM

The tourism industry in the Maldives is facing boycott calls in India after officials from the island nation made disparaging remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media.

EaseMyTrip, one of the largest Indian ticket-booking sites, on Monday announced the suspension of all flight bookings to Maldives “in solidarity” with its homeland. The move came one day after three Maldives ministers – Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid – branded Indian leader Modi a “clown” and a “terrorist.”

Read more: The Untold Story of Imran Khan’s Urgent Call to Modi Amidst Balakot Crisis

The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators has since urged Nishant Pitti, CEO of EaseMyTrip, to re-commence bookings, noting that the tourism sector is the “lifeblood” of the island nation and employs around 44,000 Maldivians. “The potential adverse impact on tourism holds the power to unleash severe repercussions on our economy,” read a letter addressed to Pitti.

The three ministers were dismissed for their comments, while the Maldives Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the statements and clarified that the opinions were “personal.” However, a host of opposition leaders in the Maldives have demanded that President Mohamed Muizzu, who was elected in October, be held accountable.

Read more: Bollywood stars rally behind PM Modi as he promotes Lakshadweep island

In a separate move, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry “strongly condemned” the “derogatory comments” made by the ministers. Hailing India as one of the Maldives’ “closest neighbors and allies,” the group said the relationship between the two nations “should endure for generations.

The social media comments directed at Modi appeared in response to his posts on X (formerly Twitter) promoting tourism to Lakshadweep, a chain of islands located off the Indian coast. The reaction from the Maldives ministers has caused nationwide outcry in India, with hashtags such as #BoycottMaldives and #ExploreIndianIslands trending on social media.

Several Indian celebrities have shown solidarity with Modi by taking to social media to promote visits to Lakshadweep, which is also known for its serene landscapes. Online travel booking company MakeMyTrip said it had seen a 3,400% increase in on-platform searches for Lakshadweep since Modi visited the islands earlier in January.

Meanwhile, Muizzu, who has embarked on a five-day state visit to China amid the unfolding spat with New Delhi, urged Beijing to send more tourists to his country. Speaking at a forum in the Fujian province on Tuesday, Muizzu said China was the Maldives’ “number one market pre-Covid” and urged the country to “intensify efforts” to “regain this position.

According to Maldives Tourism Ministry data, India topped the list of visitors to the island nation in 2023 with 209,198 arrivals, while Russia was a close second with 209,146 travelers. China was third on the list with 187,118 visits recorded last year.