Responsible Travel Policy
Cubania Travel Responsible Travel Policy
If there is one destination on the globe where you’re pretty certain to be able to travel responsibly, it’s Cuba! International tourism only developed here in the late 1990s by which time some of the most damaging environmental effects of the sector were already well known and the government has made sustainability a priority.
International tourism is one of the main sectors that supports the Cuban economy so the whole population depends on it, either directly or indirectly. Cubania Travel believes in minimising the negative impacts be they social, economic or environmental, and working to optimise the benefits that tourism can bring to the country and its people.
As a local operator with 16 years of experience in Cuba, we work to give our clients the opportunity of learning about the country’s history, discovering its unique culture, exploring its dramatic landscapes and meeting its people whilst operating our trips in a responsible and sustainable manner. We aim to respect local culture and the island’s environment in all the communities and regions that we visit. We encourage all our staff and guides to promote responsible and sustainable tourism as they work and travel with our clients.
Our aims and operating guidelines are as follow.
1. Caring for the environment
Cubania Travel aims to limit our impact on the environment.
a) We encourage travel in small groups of no more than 20 participants which we believe lessens the negative impact on communities and nature.
b) We encourage cycling, trekking and kayaking trips, all of which are carbon free aside from the bus transfers. When cycling, we prioritise using minor roads and well-established cycle trails to minimise adverse impact. We keep to trekking paths to reduce damage to plants and disturbances to wildlife. When swimming, we ask visitors not to touch or get too close to animals, coral reef or fish. We also encourage our visitors to bring sunscreen that is not toxic to marine life.
c) All our active and cultural tours visit at least one national park or biosphere reserve to promote understanding of the local environment. The visits also bring income through entrance fees and support the local rural economy. We ask our clients to respect signage, take only photographs and not to pick plants, or remove stones/ other natural elements as souvenirs of the location.
d) Owing to poor drinking water quality in Cuba, we have to buy bottled water for our clients to limit health risks. However, to combat the use of single use plastic we encourage our clients to bring their own water bottles with inbuilt filters thereby reducing the quantity of bottled water we need to buy.
e) We make wide use of ‘casas particulares’ (Cuban B&Bs) on our trips which produce far less waste than big hotels and consume much less energy. Furthermore, we encourage our clients to re-use their towels and remember to turn off lights and air conditioning units when they leave their room.
f) We make sure that we recycle as much as possible and dispose of any litter responsibly. In fact, the effect of the US embargo on the economy has made Cubans experts in the stewardship of resources for decades, re-using and recycling wherever possible. We donate the empty 5 litre plastic water bottles to local communities where they are given a range of household uses, from selling home-made fruit juices at markets to storing food or making flowerpots!
g) As Cuba is an island and there are no ferry services, clients arrive and depart by air. However, whilst in Cuba our clients travel by land either by private coach or using the tourist bus service. We do not use internal flights thereby minimising carbon emissions.
h) Our offices in London and Havana are virtually paper free. Our bookings are taken electronically meaning that paper forms are not required. We do not print annual brochures or tour catalogues and send out trip information to our clients electronically.
i) When we replace equipment, old computers are sold-on to be reused or are recycled – they are not sent direct to landfill. We sell our old bike stock to locals at very reasonable prices (and donate unneeded tyres and spare parts) thus avoiding waste and enabling locals to access transportation or set up small local bicycle hire initiatives to generate income.
2. Stimulating the local economy
We promote economic development in Cuba through our activities.
a) We recruit and train Cuban nationals. In our Havana, our highly qualified and dedicated office staff are nearly all Cubans and all our support staff are Cuban. Our guides are all Cuban graduates with very varied educational backgrounds but with the same passion for Cuban culture, nature and the infectious warmth for which the Cuban people are so famous. We have trained them in the guiding skills required to operate tours to international standards, and also brought in British Cycling experts to train our bike guides and certify them as Bike Leaders. All our staff and guides have received First Aid training (Cubania Travel pioneered this in Cuba); the courses were opened up to people working in tourism outside Cubania in order to contribute towards upskilling the sector.
b) We generate employment and income for locals through offering a range of activities on our tours. We provide teachers for salsa, cookery and cocktail-making classes and organise visits to social enterprises. In remote rural locations our treks are led by local guides who work alongside the main tour guide as the trails are often not marked.
c) We promote family owned accommodation and restaurants. Hotels in Cuba are owned by the Cuban government even if many are operated by foreign partners. Tourism revenue has historically been ploughed back into schools, hospitals and other services which directly benefit the Cuban people. In Havana and many provincial locations, we favour using ‘casas particulares’. By staying in a private home money goes directly to the family allowing visitors to gain a unique insight into Cuban daily life and conditions. Similarly, we encourage all our visitors to try eating out in ‘paladars’ – privately owned restaurants. They range from home-cooked food served by a family in their home to paladars in Havana that are sophisticated, world class restaurants. All are owned and run by Cubans with the revenue going directly to the owners and their staff. In rural areas, our guides will stop at stalls to buy local fruit and sweet treats to support poorer rural communities.
d) We encourage support for local artisans. Cuba is full of small handicraft stalls so visitors can support local artisans by buying a variety of souvenirs to include art, ceramics, lacework, clothes, hats and instruments. We discourage clients from buying jewellery and other items that have been made illegally from endangered species such as brightly coloured Polymita snails, tortoise shells or illegally harvested black coral. We also ensure that our clients are aware of the strict laws about purchasing of Fine Art and Antiques.
3. Showcasing and respecting Cuban culture
Our guides take great pride in showcasing Cuban culture to our visitors and explaining the idiosyncrasies of life in one of the last planned economies in the world.
a) We only offer holidays which explore authentic experiences in Cuba and avoid offering holidays based around all-inclusive beach resorts which do not offer any insight into Cuban life and have little positive effect on the Cuban people.
b) We offer opportunities to see key historical sites, listen to live music, go to dance halls, learn to make Cuban cocktails and visit community initiatives.
c) We make visitors aware of local customs and sensitivities to ensure that no unintentional offence is caused.
d) Prior to travelling, we give our clients information about the country to include advice about travelling responsibly in Cuba.
e) We try to operate all our trips in such a way that encourages positive cultural exchanges between our clients and Cuban nationals, fostering mutual learning and respect. This creates a more authentic and enriching experience for both our clients and the locals.
4. Monitoring our responsible travel policies and broader engagement
We evaluate our policy on an annual basis and value feedback that we receive from our clients. In this way we keep abreast of new developments and ensure that we are following best practice.
As members of ABTA, Cubania is also actively involved in their annual campaign called Make Holidays Greener, run in partnership with Travelife for Accommodation. It aims to encourage holidaymakers and the industry to create better places to live in, and better places to visit.