10 Jan 2024

Will Dragon Come to Rescue of Maldives' Tourism Industry Amidst Diplomatic Tensions with India? Maldivian President Muizzu Made This Appeal to China

In a significant turn of events, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has called on China to boost tourism to the Maldives, as the nation faces a substantial boycott from Indian tourists. This move comes in the aftermath of derogatory remarks made by three Maldivian ministers against Indian Prime Minister Modi, leading to their swift suspension by the Maldivian government.

The controversial comments made by the ministers have sparked a widespread backlash in India, which served as the primary tourist market for the Maldives in 2023. President Muizzu's appeal to China signals a diplomatic strategy to mitigate the economic impact of strained relations with India, as the Maldives seeks alternative sources of tourism revenue. 

Muizzu, perceived as pro-Beijing, is presently undertaking a five-day visit to China amidst the growing criticism in India. On the second day of his trip, Muizzu referred to China as the "closest" ally of the island nation during his address at the Maldives Business Forum in Fujian Province on Tuesday.

He described China as one of their closest allies and development partners, commending the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects initiated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014. According to Muizzu's speech, these projects have brought about the most substantial infrastructure developments in Maldivian history.

Muizzu urged China to increase the influx of its tourists to Maldives

Additionally, Muizzu urged China to increase the influx of its tourists to the Maldives, citing China as the primary market before the Covid-19 pandemic. He expressed the desire to regain China's position as the leading source of tourists for the Maldives.

Reports from the Maldivian media indicate that the two nations have signed a $50 million project for the development of an integrated tourism zone in the Indian Ocean island. Official figures show that China ranked as the third-largest source of tourist traffic for the Maldives after India and Russia.

In 2022, India retained its status as the top tourism market for the Maldives, followed by Russia and Britain.

Before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, China held the leading position with over 2,80,000 tourists. However, due to a prolonged domestic lockdown and economic slowdown, China is struggling to revive both domestic and foreign tourism, with Chinese tourists now limiting their travel.

The recent statements by the suspended ministers have escalated diplomatic tensions between the countries. Indian travel portals and tourists are calling for a boycott of the Maldives, promoting Indian destinations as an alternative.

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