As if Puerto Ricans didn’t have enough problems. They’re still struggling to recover post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria (over three years ago), coping with COVID-19, and dealing with the ongoing debt crisis. Now they also have to weather an influx of tourists who, with total disregard for the well-being of islanders, want to party and brawl and roam the streets without masks.  

Tensions between island and mainland have always existed, exacerbated by the split on the island between political parties with strong oppositional positions on the question of Puerto Rico’s colonial status—statehood, independence, enhanced status quo or some other arrangement. However, the cheap airfares to the island, bringing in hordes of tourists who mock “the locals” and ignore the strict COVID-19 restrictions for residents, have created an ugly atmosphere. Many islanders are demanding “gringos go home” and that they “stay the hell home.”

The Guardian posted this report from Coral Murphy Marcos, from San Juan.

The combination of US residents wanting to escape cold weather, cheap flight tickets and easing restrictions on the island has been bringing tourists en masse. […]

Videos circulating on social media show aggressive tourists starting fights, disrespecting local workers and residents, and disregarding Covid-19 precautions, including not wanting to wear face masks and having large gatherings as the travel influx to the island continues.

Murphy Marcos also covered the local response.

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Natalie B. Compton, a travel writer for The Washington Post, offers a list of wonderful places for tourists to go and things to do on the island. Compton also cautions readers to “treat the local community with respect.” Unfortunately, not everyone is listening.

Photos and videos of visitors behaving badly circulate on a regular basis, featuring scantily clad tourists dancing suggestively in the streets and on beaches, leaving scooters and trash on the sidewalks and breaking the country’s coronavirus mitigation measures, from mask requirements to curfews.

“It’s sad,” says Israel Meléndez Ayala, a San Juan native who is a writer and historian at the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office. “It is the first time I have experienced this in Old San Juan, this kind of tourist with this sense of entitlement.”

Ayala, who has posted about tourist behavior on his Twitter as well, says he and his neighbors have had multiple encounters with travelers who refuse to follow mask protocols, curfews or common courtesy norms in general.

Ayala doesn’t hesitate to name the underlying causes of the disrespect.

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The video below offers clip after clip of bad behavior and blatant disrespect.

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The “ugly American” is on full display, for everyone on the island to see.

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Brenda A. Vázquez Colón discusses yet another ugly (and expensive!) tourist issue for The Weekly Journal. 

The noncompliance of some travelers in San Juan and other tourist zones with public order is affecting the economy of small businesses, since merchants have been forced to pay private security services on account of their aggressive behavior.

“To deal with inappropriate behavior, small and medium-sized businesses have had to hire people for security when they can barely survive financially. Big chains can do it, but small ones can’t,” said Jesús Vázquez, president of the United Retailers Center (CUD by its Spanish acronym).

The situation worsens, since beyond the inappropriate behavior of some tourists, now many of those visitors are refusing to pay for their consumption. Ramón Leal, senior VP of International Restaurant Services, Inc. (IRSI) and former president of the Puerto Rico Restaurant Association (Asore, Spanish acronym), assured that food establishments are receiving visitors in groups who come to consume and then refuse to pay the bill for an alleged dissatisfaction with the quality of the food.

 Susana, a nursing student in Puerto Rico, tweeted about the dine and dash situation.

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She also addressed the racial component to anger on the island. Many of the videos being circulated are of Black mainland tourists, and this has led some island folks to air their “inner racist.”

(Yes, there is racism in Puerto Rico.)

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In the past, I visited the island frequently, staying with friends and family, and avoided most of the tourist areas. I saw some incidents like the ones islanders are reacting to—but they were never this bad, and are worsened due to the COVID-19 curfew which islanders must obey, and tourists seem to be able to ignore. 

If you know someone who is planning a trip to Puerto Rico for a vacation, do Puerto Rico a favor. Tell them that if they must go, they should polish up their best behavior, and respect the island’s people.

Play them this mock PSA, offered as a “message to our tourists.”

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And if they can’t do that—they should stay the f*ck home.

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