In hindsight, only a small percentage of Indian tourists visited Maldives every year. However, thanks to improved bilateral relations, the introduction of local tourism and many other factors, India has begun to take notice and numbers are officially on the rise.
In 2018, over 90,000 Indian tourists travelled to one of Maldives' picturesque islands. It is estimated that the number of arrivals will increase to above 100,000 this year. This proves that the island-nation has finally cemented its position as a highly desirable travel destination favored by India's uber-rich and middle class alike.
During the past five years, tourists bound to Maldives departing from its financially thriving neighbour increased by as much as 20 percent. Reasons marked by those experienced in the tourism industry are the low rates provided to middle-class, and the increase in the number of Indian airlines visiting Maldives.
According to General Manager of Paradise Island Resort Qaisar Naseem, the ubiquity in discounted rates is the reason why the country, ten years ago visited by only 16,000 tourists from India per annum, now experiences arrivals in the hundred thousand-range.
“Price is the most important factor contributing to an increase in travellers from India. Most tourists from India are mid-range and price-sensitive”, said Qaisar.
It is well known that Paradise Island Resort is popular among Indian tourists. Referring to the preference, the resort's general manager revealed that over 25 percent of its visitors are Indian nationals.
“There are a significant amount of mid-range resorts and guesthouses in Maldives. [The number of] Indian airlines [flying to Maldives] has also increased”, Qaiser offered as an explanation for the growing new 'SouthEast Asian' market.
As stated by Afeef Hussain, the Regional Director of Training, Development and Quarterly at LUX* Maldives, these days Maldives is being heavily promoted in India as a must-visit destination. Further, India is also playing an important role in the advancement of transport facilities in the Maldives; a crucial aspect of the dispersed island nation's development as well as a massive factor currently hindering tourism.
In many respects, Maldives is rising to fame across India. Citing Indian airlines as one factor, the Managing Director of local tour operator Inner Maldives', Mohamed Firag, attributed the recent popularity to cruise liners, or more specifically, Indian tourists travelling to Maldives on these vessels.
“Indian airlines are increasing. Airlines such as Indigo, GoAir, SpiceJet are now available. The advertisements from the airlines and their low fares attract tourists”, said Firag.
Most Indians report having previously believed Maldives to be extremely expensive; a luxury travel-spot beyond their means. However, the introduction of several budget hotels, as well as the widespread presence of locally-run affordable guesthouse houses, are slowly eliminating the misconception.
"Diving and staying at a guesthouse or a mid-range resort here is a wonderful experience that I can afford to repeat frequently - Maldives is only four hours away for me, and it allows me to indulge in a lifestyle that is so different from my own, a refreshing change", quipped an Indian national from Hyderabad, stating this year marked her fifth such visit, having travelled solo, with friends and with family as well.
"If transport from the capital to other islands was cheaper, it would be an added advantage. I would be willing to spend more to experience more, and to see all of what Maldives has to offer".
In the past, Indian tourists spent an average of four days in Maldives. According to travel operators, this number has extended to choosing to stay for nearly a week on average. In terms of the growth of the Indian market, this is a very positive milestone.
Home to over a billion people, the Indian population understandably boasts a vast demographic of the rich and middle-class. As such, Indians able to afford a holiday in Maldives has risen by the million, at least. Distance, location, wallet sizes, celebrity influencers and consumer numbers all in favour, to say there is ample opportunity for the country's tourism industry to benefit from bolstering this particular market, is almost an understatement.
Stars seemingly aligned, now more than ever, hoteliers in Maldives must recognize India as an essential market in the development of tourism in the archipelago.