Renowned Travel Agency Cancels Maldives Bookings Amidst Political Turmoil

The Maldives sets the bar high for superior island living, a chain of 1,192 sun-kissed islands in the Indian Ocean dotted with luxury resorts. Overwater bungalows come as standard, privacy is a given, and world-class restaurants are nestled among lush jungles and pristine beaches.

But a row over derogatory social media posts against India, the archipelago’s most significant source market, could cost the destination dearly. India sends the highest number of visitors to the Maldives, where tourism accounts for almost one-third of its economy.

Now, an Indian travel agency has suspended flight bookings to the Maldives, which clearly shows the damage done by the political feud. The incident comes days after President Mohamed Muizzu was accused of pursuing an anti-India policy by requesting that Delhi withdraw 75 troops stationed on the islands, a move seen as a direct snub to New Delhi.

Three Maldivian ministers were suspended after posting derogatory remarks against PM Modi on microblogging platform X (formerly Twitter), which went viral. They were responding to a post by the PM promoting the pristine beaches of Lakshadweep, another Indian archipelago, as an alternate destination for Indian tourists.

The row has strained relations with close cultural and strategic ties between the two nations. New Delhi has voiced concern over the controversy, urging the Maldivian government to take action against the ministers. The government responded that the minister’s comments did not reflect its stance but could not calm the tension.

India and Russia send the most significant number of visitors to the Maldives, a chain of sun-kissed islands in the Indian Ocean home to many luxury resorts. The archipelago’s tourism industry heavily depends on visitors from the two countries, which account for around 75 percent of arrivals.

However, the row over the derogatory comments has triggered a backlash in India, which could damage tourism in the Maldives. Many Indian celebrities are now calling for a boycott of the islands. Others are promoting desi destinations like Lakshadweep as an alternative.

The Indian Association of Tour Operators predicts that the call for a boycott will hit tourism to the islands within the next 20-25 days. But many people who have already made bookings are still waiting to cancel them, said Rajiv Mehra, association president.

Amid the tussle, the government has urged both sides to use “responsible language” in public and avoid escalating the issue further. It also appealed for the restoration of normal diplomatic relations.

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