Male, January 9: Extending a "sincere apology" for the hurt caused by the derogatory remarks by some of its deputy ministers against the Indian Prime Minister and Indians, a top travel and tour operator body of the Maldives on Tuesday sought rapprochement of relations with India to avert a “potential adverse impact” on tourism that is the lifeblood of the archipelago nation.
Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO)’s appeal came in a letter to the CEO of an online travel platform in India after it announced the suspension of all flight bookings to the island nation on its website in solidarity with India.
MATATO Letter To EaseMyTrip CEO Nishant Pitti
Starting late Saturday, there was a full-blown backlash directed at the Maldives following the derogatory remarks against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media by three deputy ministers at the Maldives Youth Ministry after he posted photos and video on X after he visited the pristine Lakshadweep Islands on India’s west coast earlier that day.
“Tourism stands as the lifeblood of the Maldives, contributing over two-thirds of our GDP and providing livelihoods to approximately 44,000 Maldivians who work directly in the tourism sector. The potential adverse impact on tourism holds the power to unleash severe repercussions on our economy, affecting the lives and well-being of many,” MATATO said in a letter to the CEO of EaseMyTrip, the online travel booking platform.
EaseMyTrip Suspends Bookings To Maldives
In a series of posts on social media platform X on Monday, EaseMyTrip CEO Nishant Pitti said the “Water & beaches of Lakshadweep are as good as Maldives/Seychelles. We at @EaseMyTrip will come up with crazy special offers to promote this pristine destination that our PM @narendramodi has recently visited!”
The EaseMyTrip CEO also asked the travellers to “Say no to Maldives bookings and explore the wonders of Ayodhya and Lakshadweep.”
Referring to the derogatory remarks for which three deputy ministers were suspended by the Maldives government, the MATATO letter, signed by its president Abdulla Ghiyas and vice president Mohamed Shaz Waleed and addressed to Pitti, said recent events have cast a somber shadow on the relationship between India and Maldives and extended its “sincere apologies for the hurt caused by these remarks.”
“We want you to know that the bonds connecting our nations transcend politics. We consider our Indian counterparts not just as business associates but as cherished brothers and sisters,” it said.
According to the Maldives Tourism Ministry statistics, over 17 lakh tourists visited the island nation in 2023, out of which more than 2,09,198 visitors were Indians followed by Russians (2,09,146) and China (1,87,118).
The number of Indian visitors was more than 2.4 lakh in 2022 while over 2.11 lakh Indians flew to the Maldives in 2021. The Maldives was also one of the few countries open for international tourists during the pandemic and nearly 63,000 Indians visited that country during that period.
“We firmly believe that collaborative efforts and open communication are essential in preserving friendly relations, facilitating trade, and encouraging cultural exchanges between our nations to remain strong and unhindered,” the letter added.
Maldives President Urges China To Send More Tourists
The letter came as Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu on Tuesday appealed to China, during his visit there, to “intensify” efforts to send more tourists to his country after the diplomatic row.
Stating that MATATO recognises the “strategic alliances we hold with our Indian counterparts,” the letter further said, it understands that these relationships “extend beyond the professional realm” and “serve as a testament to the enduring friendship and partnership between our two nations.”
Reiterating that the Indian market remains “an indispensable force in the success of the Maldivian tourism sector,” providing vital support to guest houses and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that depend on the influx of Indian visitors, MATATO said it humbly seeks “assistance and support” in fostering positive relations and dispelling any misunderstandings that may have arisen. It also urged Pitti to reopen EaseMyTrip flights to Maldives.