India-Maldives rift: Travel giant halts bookings

In a bold response to escalating tensions, one of India’s leading travel platforms, EaseMyTrip, made a decisive move by suspending flight bookings to the Maldives.

EaseMyTrip, one of India’s prominent travel platforms, took a significant decision on Monday, suspending flight bookings to the Maldives. This action followed a series of disparaging social media posts directed at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which escalated tensions between India and the tourism-dependent Maldives, two South Asian neighbors with historically close ties.

The Maldives, a collection of picturesque islands in the Indian Ocean known for its luxury resorts, heavily relies on tourism, contributing to nearly a third of its economy as per the World Bank.

Prashant Pitti, the co-founder and Executive Director of EaseMyTrip, expressed that bookings to the Maldives have been put on hold for an indefinite period. This decision reflects the company’s stance in response to what Pitti described as derogatory statements made by representatives of the Maldives government against India, as reported by Reuters.

Notably, relations between India and the Maldives have experienced strain since President Mohamed Muizzu took office, having won the election on an ‘India Out’ campaign in November.

The controversy emerged from comments made by three Maldivian deputy ministers—Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid—on a social media platform, referring to Modi as a “clown,” “terrorist,” and “puppet of Israel.” This occurred following a video of Modi promoting tourism in the Indian islands of Lakshadweep, situated north of the Maldives.

While Pitti acknowledged EaseMyTrip’s significant market share as the second-largest online travel booking platform in India, he emphasized a commitment to promoting Lakshadweep over foreign destinations, despite an anticipated temporary decline in international tourism.

The repercussions extended beyond the business realm, with numerous Indians, including celebrities, sharing social media posts advocating domestic travel within India over visiting the Maldives.

This diplomatic friction prompted swift actions from Indian authorities, including the summoning of the Maldivian envoy, Ibrahim Shaheeb. Furthermore, India’s mission in Male raised concerns with the Maldivian foreign ministry, and the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Munu Mahawar, engaged in a pre-arranged meeting with the Maldivian foreign ministry.

Tourism stands as the primary foreign exchange earner for the Maldives, with both India and Russia contributing significantly to visitor numbers, with approximately 209,000 tourists from each country in the previous year. Despite the ongoing tensions, the Maldives aims to attract 2 million arrivals in 2024.

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