Maldives vs Lakshadweep: Only one airline operates a flight to Indian island

The hullabaloo of several high-ranking officials and senior ministers of Maldives taking unsavoury potshots at India created an uproar on social media, which consequently triggered holiday cancellations by Indians. At least one Online Travel Agency (OTA), EaseMyTrip, decided to stop bookings to Maldives.

Delhi Airport(Vijayanand Gupta/ HT Photo)
Delhi Airport(Vijayanand Gupta/ HT Photo)

India was the largest source of tourists for Maldives in 2023, followed by Russia.

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Even as the Maldivian government tries damage control, the largest source market deciding to snub the country will have a large impact. The alternative for travellers will not be Lakshadweep just yet as the infrastructure at the Indian archipelago is far from the standards of Maldives, but the new breed of Indians brimming with confidence and money are more than willing to make a statement.

India out?

Indians prefer Maldives for its secluded resorts, visa-free travel and a short flight. Maldives has been seemingly trying to attract more Europeans who tend to spend more. While the notion might be true, the volumes which India provides can only be replaced by the Chinese for whom it is a much longer flight, making the travel cost higher than Indians. To compete for Europeans, Maldives has to offer more as it competes with Seychelles as well as Mauritius in relative vicinity. Over two lakh Indian tourists visited Maldives last year, which was 11% of total arrivals in Maldives.

Also read: From defence to infra development, how India has always stood with Maldives

Indian airline presence in Maldives

Data shared by Ciricum, an aviation analytics company, exclusively for this article shows that Maldives has 325 international departures in the current week. Of these the maximum 35 are by Emirates followed by IndiGo, flydubai and Qatar airways at 28 each. Amongst IndiGo and flydubai, there are 63 weekly departures to Dubai from Male.

Indian carriers have 48 weekly departures and there are 58 flights a week between India and Maldives with 10 departures a week being operated by Maldivian. Indian carriers had a limited presence at Maldives, with flights by Air India and SpiceJet from the Indian side. That changed significantly post 2018 when Go Air launched flights to Male. This wa followed by a barrage of flights by IndiGo, later joined by Vistara

As of today, Air India connects Male to Mumbai and Delhi, while sister concern Vistara flies from Mumbai and Delhi. IndiGo, the country’s largest carrier, operates to Male from Bengaluru (Daily), Mumbai (Daily), Delhi (Daily), Kochi (Daily) Hyderabad (thrice weekly). Maldivian operates to Bengaluru, Trivandrum and Kochi in India from Male.

Also read: Indians dominated Maldives’ tourist arrival figures in 2023, data shows

What about Lakshadweep?

Indian carriers have had a very poor presence at Lakshadweep, so much so that there was a time when Alliance Air had wet leased 19 seater B1900 to operate the route from Kochi. Currently it operates daily with the ATR 72-600 with startup fly91 in process of adding flights when it starts operations as it has won routes under RCS-UDAN from and to Lakshadweep.

Hopefully this will help Lakshadweep quickly get the infrastructure needed for luxury tourism and open up the islands for a sustainable premium tourism point in India.

Advantage Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia?

What set Maldives apart in the past for visa free travel. With Thailand and Malaysia announcing a similar concession, there is competition. From a passengers perspective, the total cost is equally important and Maldives has cheaper flights with higher hotel rentals while this tilts towards equality in case of Thailand or Malaysia, both having some wonderful beach destinations and resorts, in addition to being a shoppers paradise – something which Maldives does not offer.

Now that India has direct flights to Bali (and Jakarta), Indonesia ranks high in terms of cost index and also has an advantage, so does Mauritius. World over, the advent of social media has led to an instant uproar with repercussions. In the current case, Maldives seems to have handled the whole scenario wrongly in which the Prime Minister Modi had not mentioned Maldives at all but some stray elements from Maldivian side have ensured there are grave repercussions for the country’s economy. Maldives wants to attract more Europeans, it will come at a cost.

The writer is an aviation analyst

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