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Indians boycott travel to the Maldives over PM’s holiday photos

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi promotes India's Lakshadweep Islands on his X account.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi promotes India's Lakshadweep Islands on his X account. Copyright Narendra Modi/X (Twitter)
Copyright Narendra Modi/X (Twitter)
By Rosie Frost
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's holiday photos have caused tensions between the two countries to boil over.


A row over tourism between India and the Maldives has been prompted by a photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi relaxing on the beach.

It has led to a tourist boycott with Indians shunning the islands in favour of domestic destinations.

Modi visited the tiny Indian islands of Lakshadweep, later posting photos on social media of him relaxing on the “pristine beaches”. The holiday snaps were an effort to promote domestic tourism in the archipelago, which is located in the Laccadive Sea off the coast of Kerala.

Though no other countries were mentioned in the posts, some interpreted Modi’s trip as an attempt to draw tourists away from the Maldives to domestic destinations instead. Comments underneath soon drew comparisons with many saying this was India’s version of the Maldives.

The row reached its peak when, in a series of now mostly deleted responses to the posts on X, Maldivian ministers reportedly described Modi as a “terrorist”, “clown” and “a puppet of Israel”. 

A number of other people from the Maldives also made derogatory remarks about Indian tourists on the social media site. 

Beach snaps spark tourism boycott

Three ministers - Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid - have since been suspended by the Maldivian government for their derogatory comments. It said in a statement that the opinions were “personal and do not represent the views of the government of Maldives”.

Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer also called the officials’ remarks “unacceptable,” in a post on X saying the country is committed to “fostering a positive and constructive dialogue with our partners.”

But the row sparked by the travel photos led to calls for a boycott of travel to the Maldives in favour of India’s domestic destinations instead.

The Maldives’ economy is heavily reliant on tourism with travel contributing 28 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to the World Bank. An estimated 200,000 people visit from India every year - the largest group of any country in 2023.

Tourism makes up a major part of the Maldives' economy.
Tourism makes up a major part of the Maldives' economy.AP Photo/ Gemunu Amarasinghe, File

That includes celebrities from Bollywood actors to cricket players who frequently post pictures of honeymoons and holidays to its sun-kissed beaches across social media.

But now many of these celebrities have posted screenshots on social media showing that they have cancelled their trips to the Maldives using the hashtag #BoycottMaldives. Another hashtag, #ChaloLashadweep - meaning “Let’s go to Lakshadweep” - has also been popular encouraging fans of the stars to turn to local destinations instead.

On Monday, one of India’s biggest travel sites, EaseMyTrip suspended flight bookings to the Maldives “in solidarity with our nation”. 

CEO and Co-founder of EaseMyTrip Nishant Pitti.

Another travel firm, MakeMyTrip, claimed it had seen a 3,400 per cent increase in searches on its platform for Lakshadweep since Modi’s visit.

In response the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators sent a letter asking EaseMyTrip to re-open flight bookings to the island nation.


“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,” it reads.

“The potential adverse impact on tourism holds the power to unleash severe repercussions on our economy, affecting the lives and well-being of many,”

Is this more than just a row over tourism?

Aside from tourism, India is also a strategic ally for the Maldives, with military personnel and helicopters stationed on the islands. But relations have deteriorated since Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, who is considered to be pro-Chinese, was elected in November.

Since his election, the archipelago has increased cooperation on China's ‘Belt and Road’ initiative which aims to build ports, railways and roads to expand trade and China’s influence across Asia, Africa and Europe.


As tensions rise, a tourism boycott could prove difficult for the newly elected government. On Tuesday, President Muizzu urged China to send more tourists while on a trip to the country amid the backlash from Indian tourists. 

“China was our No. 1 market pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position,” he said in a speech in Fujian province, southeastern China.

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