I was heavily quoted in a CNN Travel article entitled “The trouble with maskless tourists“, by Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN • Updated 20th April 2021.
But why are so many tourists seemingly ignoring the rules around mask wearing?
According to Michael O’Regan, a senior lecturer at Bournemouth University and former assistant professor at the Institute for Tourism Studies, the issue is a complicated one.
“You can see that there is a level of selfishness there,” O’Regan tells CNN Travel, pointing out that some travelers who’ve already been fully vaccinated may feel that the rules don’t apply to them.
“There are some who think they don’t have to wear masks because they’re vaccinated and they come from the states or Europe. In their mind it’s not their responsibility.
“Some of the education around mask wearing isn’t good. People don’t understand that if they have been vaccinated, they can still get the virus, they can still pass it on.
“Tourists are at fault, but they are not the only ones who are at fault.”
O’Regan points out that some officials have sent out confusing messages by being openly dismissive of mask wearing.
For instance, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador famously said he would not wear a face mask after recovering from Covid-19, while former US President Donald Trump openly mocked face mask wearers during his last year in office.
“There’s a lack of leadership around mask wearing,” O’Regan adds.
Some local authorities have been handing out hefty fines to those who refuse to comply in order to clamp down on rule breakers.
This has certainly been the case in Puerto Rico, where police have issued a number of $100 fines to tourists caught in public without a mask or face covering due to tensions between locals and travelers around noncompliance.
“The fine is absolutely nothing, but the videos might be a deterrent,” says O’Regan.
He believes authorities need to be tougher when it comes to handing out fines, otherwise some may think they can break the rules and get away with it.
“There’s a lack of enforcement,” he says. “In Puerto Rico, quite a few tourists have been fined. Maybe that’s a better example than having people doing push ups.”
“The national authorities have to educate people and at this stage, they have to back it up with mandatory fines for those who don’t wear masks.”
However, O’Regan acknowledges some destinations may be wary of seeming to be too strict or heavy handed with regards to masks, particularly those that are highly reliant on tourism.
Unfortunately, O’Regan feels this issue will only get worse as more and more people become fully vaccinated and destinations reopen around the world.
“In every country you have a certain amount of people who are transgressing the rules,” he says.
“They might have already been breaking the rules by partying or mingling in their home countries, so they’re simply doing the same thing they were at home.
“Now with more tourists being vaccinated, they feel they are protected. But they don’t always think about other people.
“They’re looking at the places that are open, and thinking ‘I’ll go there,’ but not examining the local rules. These tourists are putting people at risk, but it’s not only their fault.”
He stresses that the tourism industry also has a part to play when it comes to putting safety protocols in place, making sure the rules are clear and enforced appropriately.
“There are places opening that shouldn’t be opening,” O’Regan adds. “Some restaurants are turning into late night bars or night clubs.
“Sometimes there’s no intervention by the businesses involved, so of course people are going to think they can push boundaries. “But it’s up to the national authorities to crack down and enforce existing regulations.
“We live in liberal democracies. There are always going to be people who break the rules.”