Together, India and Maldives have announced several new initiatives that are expected to boost connectivity between the two regions. Fostering Maldives’ economic growth and developing new travel and tourism zones are a few key objectives of this partnership.

Business Traveller India exclusively speaks to Sunjay Sudhir, High Commissioner of India to Maldives for insights on tourism flow and the bilateral travel agreement between India and Maldives.

What are the developments in the air bubble arrangement between the two regions? 

The Maldives is among the few countries with which India has started an air travel bubble. Among our south Asian neighbours, Maldives is the first and only such country.

With the doubling of Indian tourist arrivals to the Maldives last year, India is the second-largest source market for the island nation. While pandemic has resulted in a steep drop in global tourist arrivals, the governments of both countries have to encourage more and more Indian tourists to visit the beautiful region.

Under the air travel bubble, Air India flights from Thiruvananthapuram to Malé have already commenced on August 25.  Since the air bubble is available for airlines of both countries, we have seen huge interest from Maldivian airline, Indigo and Spicejet to connect Malé with cities including Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kochi and Delhi.

What is the contribution of India in the Greater Malé Connectivity Project? 

The Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) is a landmark infrastructure project which connects Malé with neighbouring islands of Villingili, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi through bridges and causeways measuring 6.7 km.

This project, at an investment of US$ 500 million under the Indian Line of Credit, will be the largest infrastructure project ever in the Maldives.

GMCP will provide a new economic lifeline to the Maldivians by connecting Malé with Gulhifalhu, where a new commercial port is being developed with Indian assistance as well as Thilafushi, which is the largest industrial zone in the country.

GMCP will be a testimony to the deep close and historical relations between India and Maldives.

What initiatives are being adopted by the two countries to boost tourism flow?

Several measures are being taken to promote tourism flow.

Government of Maldives has already launched travel roadshows in India to attract Indian tourists. They are highlighting that tourism facilities in the Maldives cater not only to top-end tourists but also to the budget travellers.

Resorts are also promoting the Maldives as a unique destination with an unparalleled marine ecosystem and natural beauty.

We also plan to conduct tourism roadshows and travel mart in Malé as soon as the Covid-19 situation stabilises.

India and Maldives have partnered for the development of five eco-tourism zones in Addu. What are the key objectives of this project?

Under India’s extensive grant-assisted projects, five eco-tourism projects are being implemented in Addu.

Addu has unique natural beauty and lies just across the equator at the southern tip of Maldives. Under an Indian grant of US$ 2.5 million, these five projects will develop tourism infrastructure, including developing beaches, water sports, guest houses and other tourism-related infrastructure in Addu.

They will give a huge fillip to guest house tourism which is suitable for budget tourists in the US$ 50-100 range.

In addition to reviving the local economy, the five projects will create employment as well as encourage decentralisation which is a key priority of the Maldivian government.

On the aviation front, what more can we expect in the coming future from India and Maldives?

In my view, Maldives has immense tourism potential for Indian travellers. It has the advantage of being in close proximity of India as well as suiting different budgets.

India is assisting the Maldives in enhancing connectivity. In this effort, the airport at Hanimaadhoo in the northern Maldives is being expanded in terms of both airside and landside facilities so that larger aircraft can use the airport.

The project is expected to be developed within two years. Once completed, resorts in the northern Maldives will become more accessible for Indian tourists through direct flights.

We are also looking at increasing air connectivity by introducing more direct flights between India and Maldives. Goair commenced a direct flight between Delhi and Malé in December last year. We expect their operation to resume once the crisis settles.