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.
Following multiple instances of irresponsible visitor behavior
"We have known of buffet-style restaurants that serve food at the table and these tourists when they finish eating say that they did not like the food and leave without paying. The industry is not used to dealing with these situations. There is a lot of annoyance between restaurant owners in Condado (San Juan) and Isla Verde (Carolina). This also occurs in businesses in the south and southwest of the island. It is an issue that must be addressed promptly to know what to do and who to call," said Leal, adding that these situations are more common at nighttime and when tourists come in groups.
Business Owners Scared
Some merchants fear for their safety, as many of the tourists who visit their establishments in the busiest areas exhibit defiant behavior.
"These tourists arrive in groups, without masks and without keeping physical distance and they get aggressive, so what are the merchants going to do? They cannot respond to you and endanger consumers or your employees. They are not in control because these people are on the defensive. What they can do is assert the right of admission for inappropriate clothing," Vázquez argued.
The president of the CUD highlighted that merchants constantly guide people on the security protocols required to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that businesses that have recently been penalized or closed have had other types of situations that have nothing to do with security measures.
"The fines these days have been for lack of permits or licenses, not for lack of health protocols such as the use of masks. Which is also wrong because this is a country of law and order, and you have to follow the laws," Vázquez said.
Asks to target unruly travelers
Moreover, Iván Báez -president of the Retail Trade Association (Acdet)-, added that although most businesses are complying, several don't follow government mandates.
"We have been with the pandemic for a year and most businesses have learned about security protocols, but there will always be one or another that does not follow the rules and must be penalized," Báez opined.
In relation to the situation of tourists who arrive with attitudes that negatively affect the environment of tourist places and commerce, and for which they are forced to reinforce their protection and prevention measures to provide a safe environment for their clients, he stressed that it is a matter for the police to attend to.
Báez acknowledged that the CUD and other organizations do everything possible to ensure that their members are in compliance and educate tourists, but he understands that a greater presence of the relevant authorities is needed.
“We must mobilize more patrols and have more resources in the places with the most activity. Let it be seen the force of public order, it is a matter of logistics. The state is responsible for providing basic security services, they must move to the areas where they are required and help the trade that has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 battle," he stated.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner of the Police Bureau, Antonio López Figueroa, assured THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that they met with the merchants of Condado and the owners of the hotels, and agreed to move the Police headquarters that is outside the tourist area to a more central location. They will also have a rolling unit and an Emergency Management unit.
"We have a collaboration agreement to work together and we will meet on a monthly basis. We gave our personal telephone numbers so that they could call us for any complaint. We will have an indefinite police presence in tourist places," Figueroa affirmed.