EaseMyTrip CEO Nishant Pitti on Tuesday responded to claims the travel aggregator’s decision to suspend flight bookings to the Maldives – after three Maldivian ministers’ critical comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi – “instigated” the stand-off between the two countries.
In a lengthy post on X, Mr Pitti highlighted the island nation’s “pro-China” stance under President Mohamed Muizzu, who has called on Beijing to send more tourists and has demanded Indian military assets stationed in the Maldives leave, and declared it is “only fair they earn money from Chinese tourist now”. He also hit out at critics “seeing it (his company’s decision) politically”.
“Read some tweets… saying we instigated India-Maldives standoff.
Nov 2023, President of Maldives won election on plank of ‘India Out’ campaign. They wanted India and its tourists OUT since last few years. Being second largest tourism provider to Maldives, we merely facilitated what (a) majority (of) Maldivians asked for. This new Maldivian government has been clearly pro-China. It is only fair they earn money from Chinese rather than Indians tourists.”
“When we took this decision, it was risky to let go of sizeable revenue and alienating a chunk of user base… but we are thankful to 95 per cent (of the) people of India, who are supporting us,” he said.
Mr Pitti said downloads of the EaseMyTrip app had increased by 280 per cent over the past week and took a swipe at the five per cent not supporting his company, declaring they seem “aggravated”.
“… they are seeing it politically and probably it is not matching with their political ideology. Perhaps we would have done the same, no matter which government was ruling in India, as it just made sense to uphold the dignity of our country,” he concluded.
Six days ago the travel aggregator had reaffirmed its position; in a statement titled ‘Nation First, Business Later’, it said, “We are immensely proud of India’s stunning beaches” and that it had “taken a stand in response to inappropriate and unprovoked remarks by Maldivian ministers about India…”
Mr Pitti’s X post, and the ‘Nation First…’ statement comes days after a prominent Maldivian tourism body wrote an open letter to him asking for EaseMyTrip to re-open flight bookings to the island paradise. “… we want you to know the bonds connecting our nations transcend politics. We consider our Indian counterparts… as cherished brothers and sisters,” the Maldives tourism body had said.
EaseMyTrip suspended flight bookings to the Maldives 10 days ago; Mr Pitti posted on X that his company would stand “in solidarity with our nation” and posted a photograph of Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Lakshadweep – a trip that kicked off the row with the Maldives.
The company’s Maldives stance had led to criticism it is exploiting a diplomatic row, with major Indian travel firms reporting a surge of interest and bookings for Lakshadweep as a result.
The drop-off in Indian tourists travelling to the Maldives has, meanwhile, worried that nation since its economy depends almost exclusively on tourism, and India is its most lucrative market.
According to the Maldives Tourism Ministry, over two lakh Indians visited that country last year, and over 4.5 lakh travelled to the tropical paradise over the past two years. The Maldives was also one of the few countries open to tourists during the pandemic and nearly 63,000 Indians visited then.
The India-Maldives stand-off erupted after three ministers – Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid – made critical comments about PM Modi. All three were suspended and the Maldives government called the remarks “unacceptable”, but the fury in India has not abated.
There is also pressure building on President Muizzu and the three-party ruling coalition, which faces a general election later this year. Opposition MPs and political leaders have demanded he be held accountable, and even face a vote of ‘no-confidence’. Former Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla told NDTV Indians are “rightfully angry”, while ex-President Ibrahim Solih slammed “hateful language”.
Mr Muizzu has since added to the controversy with a State visit to China, during which he called for more Chinese tourists, and a warning that his country, though small, would not be “bullied”.