The conflict between the Maldives and India “absolutely” advantages Sri Lanka

The call for Indian travelers to boycott the Maldives is “absolutely helping Sri Lanka's travel industry”, the country's Tourism Minister Harin Fernando said on Thursday.

“The Maldives issue… helps us,” Fernando told CNBC, referring to a social media row in January that led to a pointy decline in Indian visitors to the Maldives this 12 months.

India was Maldives' largest source market in 2023. However, in line with the Sri Lanka Tourism Ministry, it now ranks sixth, behind arrivals from China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany.

In contrast, nearly 34,400 Indian travelers traveled to Sri Lanka in January, greater than double the 13,759 in January last 12 months, in line with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Arrivals in the primary quarter of 2024 exceeded the identical period in 2023, despite a decline in April attributable to a visa controversy that caused the value of a Sri Lanka visa to temporarily double.

Fernando also noted the close ties between Sri Lanka and India, each in business and tourism.

“Sri Lanka is a giant marketplace for [Indian travelers]”, he said. “Sri Lanka has more to offer…Sri Lanka has more value when it comes to India.”

He pointed to the country's beaches, casinos, shopping and Ramayana Trail, a series of locations mentioned in the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu epic.

'Absolutely yes' - Indian travelers' boycott in Maldives is helping Sri Lanka, says tourism minister

In addition, the two countries are closely connected, he said.

“Connectivity – that’s the trigger factor,” he said. “Sri Lankan Airlines alone flies to Indian airports 80 times a week.”

India's growing travel power

Indian travelers are expected to have the fourth-largest travel spend in the world by 2030, a forecast that “absolutely” bodes well for Sri Lanka's tourism industry, Fernando said.

“I think India is the fastest growing economy and Sri Lanka is definitely benefiting from this,” Fernando said, adding that Indian companies have made significant investments in the island.

“ITC, the major hotel chain, has opened its first hotel outside India in Sri Lanka. We opened it just a few weeks ago and it is a beautiful property… in Galle Face,” he said, referring to the seaside area of ​​the country's capital, Colombo. “It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in my life.”

A Maldives concept in Sri Lanka

Fernando said he hopes to see more investment from global brands flow into Sri Lanka – investment that the “Teardrop Island” has missed out on due to a 25-year civil war that resulted in 2009.

“We have invited a lot of investment from abroad,” he said. “We are building some water bungalows in our new area – also based on the Maldives concept – because we are surrounded by the beach.”

Fernando also outlined plans so as to add adventure activities to appeal to younger travelers, from hot air balloons to skydiving and scuba diving to explore greater than 100 nearby World War II shipwrecks, he said.

With the concert industry triggering a tourism boom, Sri Lanka also plans to introduce musical performances to draw tourists, Fernando said.

“We are making Sri Lanka an entertainment hub,” he said. “We have a lot of big names performing.”

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