HomeRegional GeopoliticsDid PM Modi just checkmate Maldives? Google searches for Lakshadweep skyrocket

Did PM Modi just checkmate Maldives? Google searches for Lakshadweep skyrocket

Source : CNBC TV 18

Did PM Modi just checkmate Maldives? Google searches for Lakshadweep skyrocket
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi enjoying the natural beauty and scenery of Lakshadweep sea beach during his visit to Lakshadweep 2 days ago (Image Credit: @narendramodi/X)

The year was 2021 and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic was still visible on India’s tourism business. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter urging everyone to visit the tulip garden located at the foothills of the Zabarwan range in Jammu and Kashmir, and enjoy the warm hospitality of the people of the Union Territory. That one tweet on Kashmir tulips would open a floodgate of visitors to the tourist-starved Valley.

At the beginning of 2024, the PM seems to have done the same, this time for Lakshadweep — a tropical archipelago of 36 atolls and coral reefs in the Laccadive Sea, off the coast of Kerala.

The name ‘Lakshadweep’ in Malayalam and Sanskrit means ‘a hundred thousand islands’. Serene beaches, blue water, white sands, friendly people, and nature preserved from the exploits of extreme commercialisation makes it one of the most beautiful places in India.

Restrictions on visits, cumbersome processes, and little knowledge had kept tourists away, so far. Data suggests that Lakshadweep received 1,00,000 foreign travellers in 2022. This record is an increase from the previous number of just 4,000 in 2021. Domestic visitors have also not been very forthcoming when it comes to Lakshadweep.

But photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi snorkelling, walking on white sand, or simply resting on a virgin beach in front of a vast blue ocean have gone viral in India, prompting a massive surge in Google searches.

INDIA GOOGLES ‘LAKSHADWEEP’

On Wednesday, when Prime Minister Modi was on the island, India was busy googling the relatively new travel destination. On Wednesday, ‘Lakshadweep’ was the ninth most searched word on Google in India. There were more than 50,000 searches that day.

Modi was in Lakshadweep on January 2 and 3 to inaugurate the Kochi-Lakshadweep Islands Submarine Optical Fiber Connection and dedicated many developmental projects to the nation. During his stay, he soaked in the beauty of the island and urged travellers to explore it.

“For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list,” he said. Making a strong case for the island similar to what he did for J&K in 2021, Modi added: “Lakshadweep is not just a group of islands; it’s a timeless legacy of traditions and a testament to the spirit of its people.”

The Prime Minister went underwater to explore the reefs and marine life and posted some photos wearing the snorkelling gear. The photos went viral within minutes of being posted.

Among the phrases India searched the most while seeking more information on Lakshadweep were ‘Lakshadweep island’, ‘Andaman’, ‘Lakshadweep flight’, ‘Lakshadweep airport’ and ‘Kochi to Lakshadweep’.

News18 analysed the data obtained from Google Trends, which shows how many searches dropped in for ‘Lakshadweep’ from December 29, 2023, to January 4, 2024. While from December 29 to January 3, there were hardly any searches, it skyrocketed on January 4.

DID MODI CHECKMATE HOSTILE MALDIVES?

The sudden rise in online interest in the island among Indians is seen to be an indication that Lakshadweep is seeing a sudden surge in visitors — both domestic and international.

Shimmering lagoons, white, virgin beaches, and a wealth of coral — the similarities between Lakshadweep and Maldives are surprising. Yet, increasingly many Indians chose to go to Maldives, making India one of its biggest markets. In 2021 and 2022, India continued as its top market with over 2.91 lakh and 2.41 lakh Indian tourist arrivals. These figures are quite high considering that Covid-19 was at its peak in 2021. That was 23% and 14.4% market share, respectively. Last year, India with 1,00,915 tourist arrivals (until June 13, 2023) remained a sought-after source market for Maldives.

But of late, Maldives has been acting hostile, raising concerns vis-à-vis India’s national security. The new government in Maldives has been perceived to be courting China. After Turkey, Maldives President Muizzu picked China for a second visit since taking office. Both Turkey and China are considered to be acting against India’s interests.

Last December, Maldives said it would not renew the Hydrographic Survey Agreement made with India. The agreement was signed in June 2019 during PM Modi’s Maldives visit. Muizzu’s party had been seeking to remove Indian troops from 10 island nations even before taking power. After coming to power, he did not change his stand.

If Modi’s appeal along with the viral photos indeed drives Indians to visit Lakshadweep, it will directly cost Maldives, eating from its market share. The fact that Lakshadweep is much cheaper than Maldives will give a huge impetus to the cost-sensitive Indian travellers. That would strike Maldives where it hurts the most — a nation that heavily depends on tourism for its economy.

While the bureaucratic ‘permission raj’ to visit Lakshadweep, no direct flights from Tier A cities remain a concern, PM Modi’s long X (formerly Twitter) thread is seen to be a new dawn for the Indian islands where such creases will be ironed out by intervention at the highest level.

The IHCL — the company that owns Taj Hotels — India’s largest hospitality company, announced last year that it will open two Taj properties on two different islands — Suheli and Kadmat in Lakshadweep. The Greenfield projects are slated to open in 2026. It can’t be a mere coincidence that the resorts will also have overwater villas, something very popular with the resorts in Maldives.

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