Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Lakshadweep travel searches surge, but infrastructure needs a boost

Online travel aggregators are recording up to 3,400 percent increase in searches for 'India's hidden treasures and gems', but infrastructural challenges such as connectivity and permissions may hinder tourism at such pristine destinations

Published: Jan 11, 2024 02:39:07 PM IST
Updated: Jan 11, 2024 02:53:10 PM IST

Lakshadweep travel searches surge, but infrastructure needs a boostTourists at Kavaratti Island, Lakshadweep enjoying their time at the coral paradise of India. Image: Shutterstock

On January 6, Dr Falak Joshipura (@fa_luck7) posted on X: “Was planning to go to Maldives for my birthday which falls on February 2. Had almost finalised the deal with my travel agent, but immediately cancelled it after seeing this tweet from the deputy minister of Maldives #boycottmaldives.” Her post which included screenshots of her chat with her travel agent cancelling the trip got 1.2 million views.

Similarly, other Indian citizens who had booked their tickets to Maldives are taking to X to share how they no longer want to visit the Maldives because they have their “own Lakshadweep” and are “atmanirbhar”.

The Maldives is facing a boycott from India following a controversy involving negative comments about the country and its prime minister by three Maldivian now-suspended ministers.

This has not only led to travellers ditching their holiday plans, but also online travel aggregators (OTA) suspending their services to the archipelago and introducing new offers to spotlight domestic destinations.

“We are noticing many travellers reaching out to us and our members to cancel their Maldives bookings as they feel they may not be safe with the negative thoughts being aired,” says Jyoti Mayal, vice chairperson at Federation of Associations in India Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH). “A country, especially like Maldives, where Indians are driving the economy and are the highest spenders, should be careful of such comments,” she adds.

Chain Reaction

In the backdrop of the offensive social media posts made by the ministers, while some travel portals and OTAs noticed a surge in the search data for Lakshadweep and cancellation of flights to the Maldives, others took the matter into their own hands as a reaction.

For instance, OTA EaseMyTrip suspended flight bookings to the Maldives, impacting 2.4 lakh annual bookings made through the platform at a time when bookings had surged by 40 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year. It also announced Lakshadweep as the premier destination and introduced new packages.

Also read: Will India and Maldives Weather the Stormy Seas?

InsuranceDekho, an insurance platform, decided to stop the issuance of travel insurance to the Maldives.

“It’s time to explore our island treasures, such as the beautiful Lakshadweep, that beckon with unparalleled beauty and charm,” says Yajur Mahendru, product head at InsuranceDekho.

OTA MakeMyTrip went on to launch a campaign titled ‘Beaches of India’, with offers and discounts to encourage Indian travellers to explore the country’s shoreline.

Besides observing a 3,400 percent increase in on-platform searches for Lakshadweep since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, MakeMyTrip also announced recording an all-time high for beach destinations in the country. The searches for Daman increased by 350 percent, followed by Andamans, which recorded an increase in overall search volumes by over 120 percent. Other destinations recording double-digit growth include Kochi, Gokarna, Puri, Visakhapatnam, Varkala, Puducherry, Goa, and other beaches across Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as per their Instagram post.

Also read: From the United States to Japan, here's a list of the most secret of 'secret' beaches

Since the issue blew up, OTA ixigo noted a surge of 2,900 percent in travel search queries for Lakshadweep. On the other hand, another OTA, Cleartrip, saw a 2x surge in cancellations of flights to Maldives, and a 6x increase in flight searches for Lakshadweep, with a 3x increase in hotel searches in the island, Prahlad Krishnamurthi, its chief business officer, informs.

“Our government’s call to explore India's gems has sparked a tremendous wave of interest and this remarkable spike resonates with the nation's eagerness to explore the hidden treasures of India, showcasing the vibrant potential within our borders,” says Aloke Bajpai, co-founder and group CEO, ixigo. also saw a 3,000 percent increase in on-platform searches for Lakshadweep.
“We foresee that 2024 will be a year where unexplored domestic destinations will gain prominence. Travellers are constantly on the lookout for offbeat, affordable, and alternative travel experiences,” says Dhruv Shringi, CEO and whole-time director, Yatra Online Ltd.

However, some tour organisers and travel representatives are hoping that the government also focuses on the infrastructure to support tourism, in addition to spotlighting domestic destinations.

Also read: How EaseMyTrip galloped to become the race-winning horse

“Despite its pristine beauty, Lakshadweep is not on the tourism map due to several reasons,” says Rajiv Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO). First, anyone opting to stay in a non-government accommodation needs to obtain a police clearance certificate that could take up to 25 days, which acts as a deterrent. Second, he says, there’s only one airline operating direct flights, and that too just four days a week. “Further, the place lacks quality hotels,” Mehra says. “Other infrastructure such as restaurants, transport, sea sports are not developed. For tourism to prosper and to attract foreign nationals, we need these vital things in place.”

Daniel D’Souza, president and country head-holidays at SOTC Travel, agrees. “We anticipate that this surge in interest and demand will encourage authorities to strengthen the infrastructure at the destination and establish direct connectivity to boost tourism there.”