Experience Cuba Tours

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My name is Ayna Davies, a Cuban now living in Australia for over 10 years now. I want everyone to see the Cuba I grew up in before it’s gone forever. I did not liked seeing tourists packaged onto cigars-and-Chevrolets tours run by the government. The tourists on these coaches packed their bags searching for an experience and ended up with a holiday. If only they’d had inside advice from someone who knows how Cuba works. That’s why I created Experience Cuba Tours with my husband, Nick. We create private and small group tours of Cuba for travellers from all around the world. We specialise on totally bespoke private tours. Our clients are travellers who want to experience the real Cuba in the company of a guide who might just become a lifelong friend. Experience Cuba Tours is an award-winning tour operator supporting directly more than 100 local Cuban guides, drivers, hosts and co-ordinators. They take our travellers into the real Cuba to make experiences they’ll talk about for years.
Member since: 07 Mar 2019

How the minimum criteria of the responsible travel standard was met...

Economic responsibility

Make a difference and support the local economy
For over 3 years we have consistently supported the Cuban community and impacted directly the local economy. We ensure that the money generated by our customer travelling goes directly to those locals who provide the services (local guides, accommodation hosts, transport drivers, etc) in order to make a lasting difference to the local communities that we visit. This helps the local economy as we pay directly to local businesses to provide communities with an immediate economic benefit.

We ensure that local economies benefit from our business by using locally and private owned accommodation and transport, employing local people as specialist guides, working with local operators and suppliers, sourcing food from locally-owned stores and eating and drinking in local bars and restaurants. In doing so, we are not only investing in local communities but also offering an authentic and real insight into a country and its people.

Supporting Local Communities
Supporting Local Economies

When we're developing and planning new itineraries we are careful to ensure that our tours will provide maximum opportunities to engage with the local people and natural environment, so that local economies benefit directly from our business and our travellers gain a genuine insight into Cuba and its people.

Building relationships with local operators and suppliers
ECT has built strong and successful relationships with business partners in Cuba. Our continuing success as a business lies in our support of local communities who have made us welcome. Our commitment to supporting local businesses means that these operators continue to prosper and empowers local people, leading to increased confidence and development of their products and services.

Local food and restaurants
When on tour we encourage clients to eat at locally-owned. As well as providing clients with a more authentic experience of local cuisine and culture, this supports local businesses and maintain their traditions in terms of cuisine and cooking methods, which are in danger of being lost in some countries. When food is provided on our tours, ECT aims to purchase high-quality fresh food from local markets where possible. Our commitment to supporting local businesses means that these companies continue to prosper and develop their products and services.

Local excursions and adventure activities
Optional excursions are often an exciting part of a journey with ECT. We look for activities which will suit our clients' varied tastes and budgets, while supporting local operators and putting money back into local economies.

Environmental responsibility

Care for the environment
ECT aims to limit our impact on the environment in several ways. When on tour, we aim to preserve and protect delicate ecosystems, wildlife and natural habitats by following strict rules that minimise the effects of our presence in an area. We also reduce waste and pollution and recycle, repair and reuse what we can, both on tour and at our administrative offices.

Reduce carbon emissions
We ensure that our tours have a minimal impact on the environment by designing tours that enable to travel on the most suitable transport to the region. Our tours may take travellers on: busses, boats, trains, bici-taxis or other locally hired transport to offer you an authentic travel experience in Cuba.

Promote animal welfare
Many of our tours include opportunities to view local wildlife in national parks or at dedicated conservation centres. Whilst these excursions can benefit both the animals and the local people who depend on them for a living, they need to adhere to strict animal welfare standards to ensure that the animals aren't exploited.

On-tour Practices
The standard of accommodation and services can vary when visiting various areas of Cuba, chooses those which are safe and enjoyable in a sustainable way.

Local resources such as water and electricity can sometimes be in short supply in Cuba and tourism can put pressure on these services and supplies which can in turn reduce the supplies available to local people. To help reduce this impact ECT staff will inform travellers about local issues such as the scarcity of water in a particular area and provide tips about how to reduce use and wastage.

We will also inform about the availability of hot water and the limitations of local plumbing, such as what's flushable. The sewer systems in Cuba in occasions are not able to cope with non-human waste. Blockages can cause floods which deprive local people of their vital services.

ECT clients may be asked by tour leaders and crew to:
Turn off the lights, air conditioning, fans, TV when leaving a room
Reconsider using air conditioning if possible
Appliances should be turned off and plugs pulled out of sockets rather than left on standby, which uses electricity
Consider taking a short shower once daily rather than a bath
Turn the tap off while brushing teeth or shaving and put a plug in the basin at other times to reduce water use and wastage
Reconsider whether they need new towels every day and let the accommodation hosts know if they would prefer to reuse their towels – this would reduce water used and reduce the amount of detergents in the waste water which ends up in the sewer system / water ways / ocean
Recycle cans, paper and plastics if facilities exist at the accommodations
ECT would encourage travellers to hold on to their plastics if possible, to recycle elsewhere if such facilities aren’t available

Animal Welfare
We promote the welfare of animals in the following ways:

Offering Wildlife encounters that directly benefit those species
Many of our tours include excursions where clients can observe or interact with wildlife, either in national parks that offer areas where the animals are protected from poaching or hunting, or at dedicated conservation centres that aim to protect and rehabilitate endangered animals for release back into the wild.

Working with suppliers that match our animal welfare standards
ECT is highly selective of local partners and approaches only those who share our commitment to the promotion of animal welfare. We are committed to assessing and monitoring animal welfare throughout our supply chain.

Working with suppliers to improve living standards for animals
An extremely important part of animal welfare is working with animal owners and to encourage better standards of welfare. We recognise that our animal welfare policy can have a huge impact on both the animals and those dependent on them for an income. We therefore remain committed to providing our suppliers with guidelines for animal welfare and discussing ways to make sure they adhere to these guidelines.

Not including rides on undomesticated animals on our tours
ECT do not include opportunities to ride on wild animals.

Guidelines for visiting pristine areas and interacting with wildlife
Travel to national parks and wildlife areas can bring positive economic benefits as entrance fees contribute to the maintenance and conservation of local flora and animal species, while visitors benefit from the educational aspects of the area and take away with them an increased awareness of the need and place for conservation. ECT staff are expected to adhere to the following guidelines and will instruct you to do the same when visiting areas with delicate natural environments and when interacting with wildlife, whether at national parks or reserves.

Follow National parks and reserves regulations as well as the instructions of their staff regarding appropriate conduct
Stick to roads and established paths, keep speeding limits and do not drive off road except in the case of emergency
Park in allocated spaces, or if forced to find a new space, avoid damaging local flora and fauna – this can take years to regenerate
Follow the instructions of local guides regarding appropriate conduct
Maintain the recommended distance from animals, as instructed by your local expert guide

Do not feed the animals – this can make animals sick, overweight, and be stressful for them
Do not touch the animals – this can transmit diseases to the animals and you may also put yourself at risk of transmission at the same time
Approach animals quietly, cautiously and slowly so as to avoid distressing them, but avoid approaching nesting or breeding sites as this can cause stress to parents and young alike. If the animal’s behaviour changes as you approach, you’re probably too close
Consider getting a camera with a long-range lens so you can take candid shots of the animal’s natural behaviour
Turn off your flash when taking photographs and avoid shining lights directly at animals or in their eyes at night
Do not support attractions which use animals as entertainment for profit. These animals are often taken from the wild, mistreated and are trained to perform unnatural behaviours which are often harmful to the animal
If snorkelling, wear appropriate footwear and do not touch coral or put your feet on it
Leave the coral where it is – it’s a living organism. Don’t try to collect it to take it home, and don’t buy it elsewhere as this encourages exploitation of coral
Never anchor on a coral reef – if it’s not possible to use a floating buoy, snorkel elsewhere

Guidelines for visiting historic sites
Many of our tours offer opportunities to visit ancient places such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites where our entrance fees contribute to the maintenance and restoration of these unique places. ECT asks that travellers respect signage, take only photographs and leave no litter or graffiti behind, even if others have done so. Do not attempt to bring home any rocks or stones or other souvenirs of the location and don't purchase such items from vendors as this can encourage the ongoing destruction of local areas of interest.

Guidelines for visiting historic sites
Many of our tours offer opportunities to visit ancient places such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites where our entrance fees contribute to the maintenance and restoration of these unique places. ECT asks that travellers respect signage, take only photographs and leave no litter or graffiti behind, even if others have done so. Do not attempt to bring home any rocks or stones or other souvenirs of the location and don't purchase such items from vendors as this can encourage the ongoing destruction of local areas of interest.

Our Office
In Our Offices

ECT recognises that it is not only on-location staff who have environmental responsibilities but also our administration staff in our offices. Our offices endeavour to be environmentally sound through practising energy conservation and adhering to recycling schemes. ECT believes in leading through example and operates in this manner to encourage other businesses and individuals we’re in contact with to be considerate of the environment. For example, in our offices we tray to aim for a paperless business philosophy, recycle paper when used, as well as cardboard, plastics and metal cans.

ECT only leases the office space necessary for company needs and maximises the use of the space available
We keep our offices clean, tidy and comfortable to facilitate a good working environment for all staff

ECT aims to the minimisation of paper used utilising digital as its main platform for operations
ECT is committed to recycling 100% of our used paper and cardboard
ECT stores most data electronically rather than on paper printouts
Clients and agents can book online – paper booking forms are not required
All tour dossiers and other pre-departure information is emailed to clients, which reduces paper usage
The blank sides of waste printer paper are re-used as note pads and we avoid buying new note pads as much as possible
We do not print documents or emails unnecessarily
Where photocopying is necessary, we try to print on both sides of the page
We purchase stationery made of recycled materials wherever possible
We purchase toilet paper and paper towels made of recycled materials or materials from renewable/sustainable sources wherever possible

Electricity and technology
We try to source computers, desk phones, photocopiers, printers and fax machines (plus fridges, kettles and other kitchen equipment) which have been proven to use electricity efficiently and have energy saving functions
When equipment is due to be replaced, old computers are sold-on to be reused or are recycled – they are not sent direct to landfill
We turn off all appliances overnight (except necessary servers)
We use energy efficient strip lighting wherever possible and encourage staff to turn lights off when natural light is enough in a room
We recycle printer cartridges and purchase recycled cartridges where possible
We buy rechargeable batteries rather than disposable ones
Maintain the air conditioning / heating at optimal temperatures for the comfort of staff and energy efficiency
Staff are provided with warm branded fleece for winter
The use of air conditioning and heating is on staff agreement only and is turned off at night and during weekends

All staff members are encouraged to take public transport to work
Leased cars are well maintained in order to reduce emissions and are only for very necessary business
We try to carpool wherever possible for events or use public transport

Staff are asked not to wash dishes under running taps, plug the sink instead
Water savers are installed in our toilets

We try to purchase environmentally-friendly biodegradable cleaning products where possible in order to reduce pollution
We are careful not to flush non-human waste (apart from paper) down the toilets

Staff Education
The ECT Responsible Travel policy is to be included in induction materials for new staff as well as confirmed with existent staff
All staff are made aware of the reason for recycling and are asked to recycle all waste paper, cardboard, cans and plastics
Staff are reminded to turn off computers and appliances, air conditioning/heating and lights at night

Reducing Carbon Emissions

Some of our tours travel on privately owned fleet of modern, comfortable and safe vehicles. ECT regularly checks and maintains the vehicles to the highest possible standard in order to limit carbon emissions and ensure the comfort and safety of our passengers.

Public Transport
On most of our tours we use varied local transport. By sharing a widely-available transport we are able to reduce our impact on the local environment and reduce emissions while maximising our contact with local people.
We opt for private transport which is operated by a locals, thus providing economic benefit to the local region and also reducing the amount of mileage required. Private vehicles also allow us make stops where local transport cannot, therefore providing business to other restaurants and shops which are not on the major tourist routes.

Social responsibility

Consultation with locals
When designing new tours, ECT consults and request advice from our local providers to ensure our proposals are realistic. ECT is highly selective of local associates and aims to approach only those who share its positive and long-term developmental outlook. ECT is committed to being honest about the impacts our products may have on local lifestyles and communities. We ensure they are happy to have our products in their areas and do not impose developments if they are unwanted.

Local guides and local representatives
ECT has always used local operators, representatives and specialist guides. 100% of the specialist guides (used to inform our clients about local attractions, treks and other special excursions) employed by ECT are locally sourced. This ensures knowledgeable, enthusiastic staff, thorough guiding and support of local individuals and businesses. ECT will endeavour to ensure that local partners are employed under fair conditions, are paid a living wage for reasonable hours and are given adequate support by our operations team and tour staff.

Our close relationships with local companies allow us to put more money back into the local economies. It also allows clients to gain greater insight into the local customs and traditions through their contact with our local operators. On certain tours the specialist knowledge of guides is invaluable. We also work with specialist local guides in national parks.

Local accommodation
At ECT we feel that travelling to Cuba provides a chance to experience the fantastic local culture and interact with new people. It is not an opportunity for us to impose our culture upon others. We encourage clients to be sensitive to the host culture through preserving and encouraging cultural and social diversity. We discourage the display of traditional or cultural 'shows' for commercial purposes. As enjoyable as they can be for clients, we are attempting to keep local culture and tradition genuine rather than encouraging it to be used as a commercial attraction. That's why there's the opportunity to stay with small family owned accommodations. We support local businesses and encourage the further development of such businesses.

ECT believes that:

The true rewards of travel come from experiencing a different culture while also giving something back to the communities who make us welcome.
As a tour operator it is essential to study and respect the customs of the people we are visiting and to share this knowledge with our clients in order to promote mutual understanding and respect.
We aim to avoid causing offence and to help clients to appreciate the local culture, enriching their experience and helping local people to enjoy their interactions too.
We should ensure that local economies benefit from our business by using locally owned and managed accommodation, employing local people as expert guides, sourcing our food and equipment locally and eating out in locally run restaurants.
We must minimise our impact on the environment by reducing waste by recycling, repairing and reusing what we can, and being careful of delicate ecologies, wildlife and their habitats.

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