EaseMyTrip halts Maldives flight bookings amid controversy and strained relations

Prashant Pitti, co-founder and Executive Director of EaseMyTrip expressed that the decision to suspend bookings was prompted by derogatory comments made by three Maldivian ministers, who have now been suspended, about Prime Minister Modi.

One of India’s prominent travel platforms, EaseMyTrip, has decided to indefinitely suspend flight bookings to the Maldives due to disparaging social media posts against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Maldives, a cluster of picturesque islands in the Indian Ocean, heavily relies on tourism, with India and Russia being the primary sources of visitors. Tourism constitutes almost one-third of the Maldives’ economy, according to the World Bank.

Prashant Pitti, co-founder and Executive Director of EaseMyTrip expressed that the decision to suspend bookings was prompted by derogatory comments made by three Maldivian ministers, who have now been suspended, about Prime Minister Modi.

The controversy arises at a time when President Mohamed Muizzu is embarking on his first state visit to China from January 8-12, deviating from the tradition of Maldivian leaders typically choosing New Delhi for their first international visit. Both Beijing and New Delhi look for influence in the strategically located nation.

Pitti emphasized the need for self-respect, stating that his company took this step because the statements from Maldives government representatives were extremely derogatory towards India. EaseMyTrip holds the position of the second-largest online travel booking platform in India, boasting a 22% market share.

The Maldives government suspended three deputy ministers—Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid—for referring to Prime Minister Modi as a “clown,” “terrorist,” and “puppet of Israel” on social media platform X. This was in response to a video of Modi promoting local tourism in the Indian islands of Lakshadweep, situated north of the Maldives. In response to these developments, many Indians, took to social media to promote domestic destinations over the Maldives.

India has raised concerns with the Maldivian foreign ministry, summoning Maldivian envoy Ibrahim Shaheeb. The Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Munu Mahawar, also engaged in a pre-arranged meeting with the Maldivian foreign ministry.

Tourism stands as the largest foreign exchange earner for the Maldives, with India and Russia contributing the highest number of visitors, approximately 209,000 each in the past year. The Maldives aims to achieve 2 million arrivals in 2024. EaseMyTrip, despite the potential temporary dip in international tourism, pledged to prioritize promoting Lakshadweep over foreign locations.