Puerto Rico as Top Tourist Destination During Pandemic Raises Serious Concerns From Residents

Apr 8, 2021
3:27 PM

People line up outside the Miramar Convention Center for the first mass vaccination event carried out by the Department of Health and the Voces nonprofit organization, seeking to apply 10,000 Johnson and Johnson vaccines, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Residents of Puerto Rico continue to be concerned with incidents of tourists growing as a result of the rise in travel during the pandemic.

Data received from the Official Airline Guide (OAG) showed that 491,337 seats were sold for flights arriving at Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (SJU) in March 2021, with 85,734 of them flying in from Orlando International Airport (MCO). The majority of tourists came in from Orlando with others flying in from Fort Lauderdale (41,330 seats) and JFK/NYC (40,944).

Airlines like JetBlue and American Airlines had the highest flight frequency to the island, with 152 flights leaving Miami and 151 leaving Orlando during March, respectively. American Airlines had a total of 31,230 scheduled seats for their Miami-SJU flights this month, with only Delta Airlines’ flight of Atlanta to SJU trailing with 26,373 seats.

With the increase of flights comes the risk of tourists not following safety measures enacted by the Puerto Rican government. A tourist who shared their trip to the island on TikTok explained to another user how she had edited a COVID test result with her name to travel to Puerto Rico.

In response to the reprehensible behavior by tourists, the Puerto Rican Tourism Company has taken to implementing billboards around popular touristic zones in San Juan, reminding the island’s visitors of its social distancing measures and a $100 fine for refusing to follow the mask mandate.

Many locals have highlighted this blatant disregard of tourists by posting videos on social media. Videos of a tourist riding an electric scooter on the Puerto Rico Highway 26 and a visibly inebriated tourist who was tased by police for refusing to wear a mask have been calling attention to the misbehaviors of tourists.

A video of tourists throwing a drink at a resident of the building who is also a wheelchair user had a large influence on local law enforcement and the tourism organizations taking complaints from locals seriously.

Cristina Carrasquillo, the victim, had tried to get the group who was staying at an Airbnb in her condominium to follow social distancing measures and to wear a mask but did so in Spanish as she did not assume that they spoke English.

“I never expected that in my own country somebody would tell me ‘Speak English’ and would attack me like that because I asked them to follow the law in Puerto Rico,” Carrasquillo told Latino Rebels.

The video of the assault caused outrage across the island and sparked debates from those who thought that Carrasquillo —the Development Director of the activism group Colectivo Ile— had aggravated the incident by pushing one of the tourists with her wheelchair.

“Listen, my fingers are paralyzed. So that movement you see of me moving forward was to tell the person, ‘Hey, look out for your foot because my wheel is there’. That’s what I was telling her, and trying to move forward, because it’s difficult to move my torso forward so that the woman who was opening the door, the same woman who refused to wear a mask and stay 6 ft apart, would listen to me,” Carrasquillo said.

The viral tweet resulted in Airbnb removing the tourists from their platform. Many on the island, however, have been very critical of the site’s contribution to the increase in tourists during the pandemic. Many local hosts on the platform have shared incidents of damage to their properties.

“Puerto Rico is like the place to vacation for the folks who want to take a break from the pandemic,” Carrasquillo said with frustration. “You see Puerto Ricans following the law and the executive order, and they don’t remove their masks on the street. But here, the tourists came to take a break from the masks.”


Isabella Philippi Cámara is a freelance journalist who has worked for GFR Media, and is currently a senior at Ohio University studying communications. You can find her on Twitter @iphilippicamara.