As the Maldives kowtow to China, tourism collapses in the island nation

After having severed links with India at the behest of China, asking Indian army personnel to leave the island and making derogatory remarks against Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, the Maldives is facing the backlash of  drop in revenue from tourism that used to come from visitors from India. In the first two months of 2024, there has been a 33 percent drop in the arrival of Indian tourists to the Maldives, compared to the same period in 2023.

The local tourism industry is worried and has voiced its concern. Explaining the important role played by India in sustaining the tourism industry in the Maldives during the off-peak season, news portal has said Indian tourists travel to the Maldives during summer when there is a drop in the arrival of tourists from Europe.

With Indian tourists refusing to visit the Maldives, travel agencies and tour operators relying on Indian tourists have experienced a decline in revenue by 80 percent. Not only Indian passport holders, affluent Indian-origin tourists from other countries have also declined to visit the Maldives in recent months. Prominent Maldives travel agency ‘Let’s Go Maldives’ has been quoted that Indian tourists range from the affluent to the budget segment. With the drop in the arrival of Indians occupancy rates have gone down in hotels in the island territory.  The total loss for the tourism industry in the Maldives may cross $ 2 billion.

President of the Maldives Mohamed Muizzu in January 2024 sent an SOS to China to send more tourists to the island to make up for the loss of Indian tourists. The esteemed President apparently did not do his homework. Figures underscore that China is a fair-weather friend while Indians stand in good stead in times of difficulty. China was on top in terms of arrival of tourists to the Maldives between 2014 and 2019, in which year 284,029 Chinese tourists arrived in the islands as against 166,030 from India. Next year, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. In 2021, the picture changed dramatically; with only 2238 tourists arriving from China as against 291,787 from India.

Now the economy of a picturesque island like the Maldives is solely dependent on tourism. If tourism is crippled, the economy collapses. In the wake of the pandemic, tourists from India had given the economy of the Maldives the necessary support. China had let the Maldives down, the same way they had let down Sri Lanka too; leading to a meltdown of the Lankan economy. The drop in the arrival of tourists from China since the outbreak of the pandemic was one of the major reasons for the foreign exchange crisis that Colombo had to face.

One reason for the drop in arrival of Chinese tourists in many countries is the downturn in the Chinese economy, with the average Chinese citizen having less to spend on foreign travels. The Indian economy, on the other hand, is booming. Sri Lanka has since been trying to woo tourists from India.

Dependent on tourism, the Maldives should do well to remember that China manipulates tourism to realize its geopolitical goals. State-owned licensed tourist agencies in China organize group tours of Chinese nationals to countries which have been accorded ‘Approved Destination Status,’ based on bilateral agreements between China and overseas destinations. Thus, Chinese tourists may one fine morning vanish from the shores of the Maldives, too, if sending tourists to the Maldives no longer serves the geopolitical interests of Beijing.