Maldives tourism loses MVR 2 billion due to president Muizzu’s policies, says former finance minister

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The Maldives tourism sector has suffered a devastating loss of MVR 2 billion, a consequence of the language and policies of President Muizzu and some of his deputy ministers, according to former Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer. Speaking at a press conference organized by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) , Ameer painted a grim picture of the nation’s economy, describing public finances as “suffocating.”

Ameer criticized the foreign policy pursued by President Muizzu and his deputies, claiming it had severely disrupted diplomatic relations. He pointed specifically to President Muizzu’s hostile statements against India and derogatory remarks made by three deputy ministers targeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These inflammatory statements have not only strained political ties but also had significant economic repercussions.

The deputy ministers implicated in this diplomatic debacle include Youth Ministry’s Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Mahzoom Majid. Despite their suspension with pay for nearly six months, the damage appears to be done. Following the derogatory remarks, a vigorous campaign to boycott the Maldives emerged on Indian social media, spearheaded by activists, Bollywood stars, and other celebrities.

The repercussions of these diplomatic missteps are evident in the tourism sector. There has been a marked decline in tourist arrivals from India, traditionally a robust market for Maldivian tourism. Ameer highlighted that 47,000 fewer Indian tourists visited the Maldives by June this year compared to the same period last year, resulting in a loss of MVR 450 million in tax revenue. The overall loss to the tourism industry is even more staggering, amounting to MVR 2.3 billion.

The downturn is particularly concerning given the previous growth in the Indian market. The 2023 yearbook from the Tourism Ministry noted an 83 percent growth in the Indian market in 2019, bolstered by the increase in direct flights to the Maldives. In 2023, however, the number of Indian tourists dropped to 264,753, a 6.9 percent decrease from the previous year.

This decline has had widespread negative effects, especially on guesthouses and resorts that relied heavily on Indian tourists to maintain occupancy rates. Businesses within the tourism sector are feeling the pinch, further exacerbating the economic strain on the country.

The current government’s approach under President Muizzu, marked by hostile and undiplomatic rhetoric, has not only tarnished the Maldives’ international image but also inflicted substantial economic harm. The loss of revenue and the shrinking tourist market underscore the urgent need for a more measured and diplomatic foreign policy to restore the nation’s standing and economic stability.