Op-Ed: The great danger of an anti-tourist sentiment, with racist overtones
During the past 12 months, I have observed unexpected reactions and behaviors in our people, which may indicate signs of an anti-tourist sentiment with some racist overtones. While there are reports of irreverent and reckless behavior from young African American visitors, our expressions and comments on the news and social media have gone far beyond outrage.
The reality is that we have had similar incidents with visitors of diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as with residents, and our reactions and complaints have been different.
Comparable irresponsible behaviors are occurring in every major tourist city in the United States. In Puerto Rico, these events are usually being caused by a small group of young people traveling together, displaying a disrespectful behavior in various places, within the metropolitan area. When amplified on social media, it appears as we have been invaded.
The reality is that the number of bad-mannered visitors is small, compared to the thousands of responsible visitors coming to Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, the hotel industry is doing its part to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all its guests. Additional security protocols have been implemented to prevent such events, and occasionally, corrective actions have been necessary, including police intervention and evicting a guest.
The records indicate that incidents have occurred with people of all races, including local and diaspora Puerto Ricans, who refuse to follow the new norms for community living.
Most recently, I visited Condado, Old San Juan, Isla Verde, and Ocean Park, and observed hundreds of African American visitors, on the street, restaurants, stores, and in the public areas at high-end, luxury hotels. The vast majority were enjoying our attractions to the fullest, in compliance with the health and safety norms imposed by the pandemic.
The reality is that many black families are staying at our hotels throughout the island, including Puerto Rican professionals living in the USA, who come to responsibly enjoy our lovely destination.
Global travelers are demonstrating to have a great interest for Puerto Rico’s tourism product, and Discover Puerto Rico, our DMO, along with the Tourism Company and the 17 industries that make up our offer, are doing what is required to attract and receive them with our characteristic hospitality and kindness.
In the coming years, tourism will be a main strategy to generate economic activity, attract new money to the island, create new jobs, and guide the recovery in the 78 municipalities. Reliable estimates indicate that the visitor’s economy could reach up to 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and over 100,000 jobs, in five years.
The great danger of developing an anti-tourist sentiment with racist overtones is that unconsciously we could be programming our future generations to ignore the importance of embracing inclusion for the tourism agenda and our economy. It is upon all of us to produce, for all visitors, unique and memorable experiences that motivate them to return and invite others, for the benefit of everyone who inhabit this beautiful island.
We are a friendly, hospitable, and inclusive people. It is imperative that we are firm and consistent in ensuring that everyone complies with our laws and regulations; and yet, very careful to protect and strengthen the values that distinguish our people.
Our culture, art, music and gastronomy are the result of the mix of three extraordinary races: the Taino, the African and the European. Let’s remember the teachings of our famous poet and musician Fortunato Vizcarrondo; amongst Puerto Ricans, “el que no tiene dinga, tiene mandinga.”