WThe world-famous state of Hawaii is a state in the western United States, located approximately 3,623.16 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 5,830.92 kilometers from the continental United States. In contrast, Lakshadweep is only 496 kilometers from the coastal city of Kochi in Kerala state. Hawaii consists of 8 main islands.
Lakshadweep consists of 36 islands and is known for its exotic sun-drenched beaches and lush green landscapes. The name Lakshadweep means “one hundred thousand islands” in Malayalam and Sanskrit. Of the current 36 islands, only 10 are inhabited. Both Hawaii and Lakshadweep have incredible beaches, but that’s where the comparison ends.
While Hawaii is a huge success story for tourism, Lakshadweep is far behind. Hawaii has transformed into an international exotic tourist destination. Hawaii is advertised as “Paradise in the Pacific” and India does not promote Lakshadweep in a similar fashion. In contrast, the Maldives, just 820 kilometers from Kochi, is widely touted as the “sunny side of life”. Beach resorts, boutique resorts, hotels and guesthouses offer a plethora of facilities to suit the needs of every type of vacationer. The sea is advertised as “our pride and joy”, with marketing focusing on underwater scenery and diverse marine life. India’s own major hotel chains are operating in the Maldives and have contributed to the small country’s huge tourism promotion. In 2021, 2,91,787 tourists from India alone will visit the Maldives. In comparison, Lakshadweep reported just 13,500 visitor arrivals in 2021. The Maldives reported a total of 1.3 million tourists from around the world in 2021. The same Indian Ocean that surrounds Lakshadweep, also surrounds the Maldives!
Hawaii, especially Maui, the second largest island, received 2.3 million tourists last year. Hawaii is gaining popularity as the “Rainbow Capital of the World”. Tourism is Hawaii’s largest industry, with net revenues of $1.37 billion in 2021.
Predictably, Honolulu International Airport is one of the largest, busiest and most beautiful airports in the world. At any given time of day or night, an estimated 10,000 people are inside the airport building as passengers, employees or visitors. About 15,000 people work at the airport every day, and another 20,000 people make a living at the airport every day. The State Department of Transportation’s Airport Division employs more than 1,200 people across the state. Compared to the small airstrip at Lakshadweep, Agati Airport has only one terminal and one gate currently only handles domestic scheduled flights. The terminal has a departure and arrival capacity of 25 people each. There are 1 check-in counter and 1 security check counter in the terminal building, covering an area of 566 square meters.
Another island destination worth checking out is Bali, Indonesia. Bali is famous for the thousands of islands (more than 17,000) in the Indonesian archipelago. This busy island of more than 4 million inhabitants has been a tourist favorite for decades. The broad beaches and lush, volcanic interior of the south attract nearly 7 million foreign tourists every year! Denpasar International Airport is the second busiest airport in Indonesia. Direct flights operate from Europe, Middle East, China, Japan, Australia, Russia and other eastern hubs. The number of foreign tourists from January 2021 to September 2021 is 1.18 million. In 2019, the total number of tourists from India alone reached 657.300 arrivals and 104.765 in the first three months of 2020 alone. More tourists from India are heading to Bali overlooking Lakshadweep! Why is India unable to attract even domestic tourists to this exotic place?
The facilities in Hawaii are admirable, not only meeting the needs of tourists but also enriching the lives of locals. The island nation has 16 colleges and universities. Lakshadweep has only three colleges, no universities, and only one center managed by the University of Calicut. While Hawaii has 28 hospitals and a medical university, Lakshadweep has only one large hospital, no university, or even an auxiliary medical school. There are 11 US military bases in Hawaii. It is home to the U.S. Army Pacific Command, U.S. Army Pacific Regional Army Command, and the Pacific Division of the Army Corps of Engineers. Hawaii is home to more than 300,000 military members and their families. Every military branch in Hawaii is represented, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. The famous Pearl Harbor naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii was the site of a devastating Japanese raid on December 7, 1941. Only 10 of Lakshadweep’s 36 islands are inhabited, posing a huge security challenge for India. Lakshadweep provides India with 20,000 square kilometers of territorial waters and 4,00,000 square kilometers of exclusive economic zone. It is close to the Nine Degrees Channel, through which 12 ships pass every minute. The Indian Maritime Doctrine (updated 2015) recognizes the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as “a hotbed of drug terrorism, smuggling, gun smuggling and related crime”. Drug smuggling routes from the Makran coast flow to destinations in India, Maldives and Sri Lanka via the sensitive “southern route”. However, India does not have a strong military presence here. INS Dweeprakshak is a naval base of the Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy on Kavaratti Island in the Lakshadweep Islands. Lakshadweep also has two Coast Guard stations. However, the Chinese have reportedly leased the Feydhoo Finolhu island in the Maldives until 2066 for $4 million and are building a military facility there. The Chinese military base is only 900 kilometers away from Lakshadweep and nearly 1000 kilometers away from the Indian mainland. Much needs to be done to strengthen the defense infrastructure of these islands.
From any angle, the Lakshadweep Islands hold enormous potential for development. These islands are also called “coral islands” because of their proximity to the fringing reefs of the coast. It could develop into a fascinating tourist destination that rivals Hawaii, Maldives and Bali. A handful of visionaries in charge of affairs can deliver groundbreaking initiatives. Let’s offer the “Coral Experience” to the world.
(the author is Former Director of the National Institute of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics. )