With the Male government at loggerheads with Indian company GMR over an airport contract, many Indian travellers are giving Maldives a miss this holiday season.
“We have already seen around 20 per cent bookings to the Maldives getting cancelled. We are not pushing travellers from our side as well. People do not want to get stuck there,” said Subhash Goyal, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators. Goyal said tourists tend to club Sri Lanka and the Maldives when planning a trip, but many are skipping the latter from the itinerary this time, as they don’t want to take chances. According to tourism ministry data, outbound travellers from India increased by nine per cent to 14 million for 2011. The Maldives received around 204 million foreign tourists from the Asia-Pacific region in 2010, of which 26,000 came from India. Capturing a market share of 3.3 per cent, India overtook South Korea to become the ninth largest market to the Maldives as a whole and the third largest market from the Asia region in 2010.
November-December is the peak travel period for tourists going to the Maldives from India. However, travel companies down played the concern, saying there was no reason to worry as airlines were operating smoothly. The current rift between the two parties had not affected the functioning of the airport itself, they pointed out. “We do the highest bookings for Maldives from India. There is no impact at all. Tourists get worried when there is political unrest which is not the case right now,” said Keyur Joshi, chief operating officer, MakeMyTrip.com.
Last week, the Male government decided to cancel the $500-million contract with GMR to manage the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. Even as GMR got a stay order against this decision from a Singapore court, the Male government's stand remains unchanged. The Indian government warned Maldives of freezing its annual aid of $25 million to the country.