In February 2024, China surged to the forefront of the Maldives’ tourism landscape, overtaking Russia and Italy to claim the top spot on the list of “Top 10 Markets 2024,” as revealed in a daily report released by the Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism.
On February 3, a report highlighted China’s ascendancy to the top position with an 11.2 percent market share. Subsequent updates from the ministry, including the latest released on February 11, maintained China’s lead, albeit with a slight decline in market share to 10.8 percent.
China’s resurgence as the largest source of tourists for the Maldives was attributed to various factors, including the implementation of a visa waiver agreement between China and the Maldives, which came into effect the previous February. This agreement facilitated smoother travel for Chinese tourists, culminating in record-high arrivals, such as the notable milestone of 10,213 tourists welcomed in a single day on February 10.
The evolving trend in Maldives’ tourism, particularly concerning arrivals from China and India, underscored a shifting dynamic. While India had previously dominated the tourism market, recent months witnessed a reversal in fortunes, with China steadily gaining ground.
In December 2023, India held the top spot on the “Top 10 Markets 2023” list, boasting an 11.1 percent market share, while China lagged behind in third place. However, by January 2024, China began to narrow the gap, eventually surpassing India’s position around January 21, 2024, to claim the fourth spot.
The progression of China’s dominance was reflected in subsequent updates, with the February reports solidifying its lead. Meanwhile, India experienced a decline in its ranking, slipping to the fifth position by February 3, amidst the backdrop of evolving diplomatic tensions between India and the Maldives.
The diplomatic discord stemmed from disparaging remarks made by Maldivian political figures towards Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, precipitating a call from Maldives President Muizzu for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the country. While India agreed to replace its military personnel with technical personnel, the strained relations cast a shadow over bilateral ties.
Amidst these developments, China’s increased engagement with the Maldives, characterized by heightened military cooperation and financial investments, raised concerns over strategic influence and debt sustainability. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned of the Maldives’ vulnerability to “debt distress,” citing its heavy borrowing from China and shifting allegiances.
Against this backdrop, China’s ascendancy in the Maldives’ tourism sector mirrored broader geopolitical shifts, highlighting the intricate interplay between economic interests, diplomatic relations, and regional dynamics. As the Maldives navigates these complexities, the evolution of its tourism landscape serves as a barometer of broader geopolitical trends, shaping the archipelago’s future trajectory amidst a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape.