In an effort to revitalise the tourism sector in the Maldives, President Dr Mohamed Muizzu has emphasised the need to restore China to its pre-pandemic status as the leading source market for tourist arrivals. President Muizzu articulated this strategic focus during his address at the Invest Maldives Forum held at the Fuzhou Strait International Convention and Exhibition Centre in Fuzhou, China, on Tuesday.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, China was the primary source of tourists to the Maldives, a position now held by India. Following a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Chinese tourists began returning to the Maldives in January 2023, with the nation welcoming 187,118 visitors from China in 2023.

Amidst the backdrop of a diplomatic spat between the Maldives and India, President Muizzu’s call acquires added significance. Tensions between the two nations escalated following the suspension of three Maldivian deputy ministers accused of making derogatory remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India on social media. The controversy has sparked a tourism boycott campaign against the Maldives, further complicating the bilateral relationship.

This situation arose shortly after Indian Prime Minister Modi released a promotional video for tourism in Lakshadweep, suggesting that Indians could enjoy Maldivian-like experiences without leaving their country. This move, perceived by some as a challenge to Maldives’ tourism, incited a heated exchange on social media, including derogatory and racially charged comments against Indians.

President Muizzu, in response to these developments, is focusing on diversifying the economic base of the Maldives, with particular emphasis on enhancing the tourism sector. His administration aims to double the nation’s GDP from US$6 billion to US$12 billion by 2028. Plans to revitalise the tourism industry include diversifying tourism products, offering new experiences, and establishing a top-tier school of hospitality. Initiatives to explore sports, medical, and cultural tourism are also underway.