How we are making a difference at MacQueen’s Island Tours / WoWCuba and how you can help
These days, it seems like everyone’s jumping on the green bandwagon. But at MacQueen’s Island Tours/WowCuba, being friendly to the environment is more of a lifelong mission.
Company founder Gordon MacQueen began business in Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1976 selling woodstoves, wind turbines and bicycles. At home, his wife and children lived in a wind-powered home tending to organic gardens and raising their own animals.
The PEI retail bicycle and tour business gradually grew into a successful bicycle tour company which expanded operations to include the complimentary tourism season in Cuba when the oldest children finished their studies.
The company now offers an array of soft adventure holidays in Cuba including cycling, contemplative scuba diving, catch & release fishing trips, organic agriculture tours, sailing charters and more.
What does our company and its employees do for the environment?
1. Our head office in Prince Edward Island, Canada is constructed from energy-efficient concrete forms, and we use a wood-pellet furnace for heat and hot water. See Guardian article . We’ve built apartments above our offices for most of the family staff members, also reducing the need for daily commuting and also allowing us to (remarkably) use just one car among all family members for any transportation that can’t be managed by bicycle or on foot. Energy-saving light bulbs and solar lighting tubes also help to reduce our electric power consumption.
2. We save on paper wherever possible. Our company has not published paper brochures since 2003. We use the internet for publication of all product material, allowing not only for more immediate information access for our international clients, but also greater flexibility and versatility as a company. All of our invoices are electronic, and only the most essential documents require printing by our clients.
3. The province of PEI, Canada practices recycling, and we’re on board. Our company separates metal, cardboard, paper, recyclable plastic, compost and waste. Many bicycle boxes from our retail bike shop are saved for resale to travelers. A lot of our compost is used in the urban organic garden plots around the shop, making for pretty flowers, tasty strawberries, luscious tomatoes, grapes for Gordon’s homemade wine and more throughout the summer season.
4. We sell & service used equipment, as well as new. In Cuba, when we renew our fleet of rental bicycles, the old ones are often used for parts, and we also regularly make donations of old equipment to the Velodrome. We also use the tube patching service offered in Cuba. While this is not necessarily financially practical in Canada, in Cuba an inner tube can be economically repaired instead of replaced.
5. Unlike most other bicycle tour companies in Cuba, our company’s tour leaders reside in Cuba for the entire tour season. Our staff travels between Canada and Cuba just once a year, greatly reducing their carbon footprint. The other upside to this practice is that our tour leaders are also the most experienced and knowledgeable about Cuba, having thereby acquired a deep understanding of Cuban culture and structure.
6. In Cuba, our tour leaders and bicycle outfitters use their bicycles as their daily transportation.
7. As with most Cuban residences, when at home our representatives cook with propane, water is gravity-fed, and they use local farmers markets when purchasing produce, much of which is organically grown. Much of Cuba’s food supply is not prepackaged – recyclable bags are used on trips to the market. Whenever possible, they try to combine transportation for common tasks.
8. Kristen, Kelley & Mirley love to shop at thrift stores. OK, we admit it! Not everyone might think it the most glamorous thing in the world, but the often fabulous deals to be found on finds not available anywhere else are just another way to show their love for the planet while not totally sacrificing the consumer devils they have lurking inside. Much of the clothing they no longer need is later passed on to deserving recipients in Cuba. Antique or vintage furniture can be found throughout their homes.
9. Our office space in Cuba is largely used as a bicycle storage facility. Rather than traveling by car every day from home to office, our administrative and operations staff in Cuba fortunately can work almost exclusively from their home office.
10. On tour in Cuba, we of course provide bottled water for drinking, since most travelers on shorter trips will not be accustomed to drinking the local water. The empty bottles are also recycled, often donated by our tour staff to dairy farmers for storing milk.
11. We include gratuities for many services in our group cycle tour prices and also provide information on local tipping practices as part of each cycle tour information briefing. We strongly urge our clients to be generous with tips where warranted, and to tip strictly for services provided in an attempt to discourage the development of deviant social behaviour. We also provide financial incentives to key staff in the offices of our ground handlers and service providers.
What can you do as a traveler to reduce your environmental footprint?
Would it surprise you to know that Cuba was the ONLY country in the world which met the WWF’s minimum criteria for sustainability in their 2006 Living Planet Report? With widespread organic agriculture, and more recently a nationwide energy revolution which has replaced a lot of common household appliances with more energy-efficient models, the elimination of incandescent bulbs, and a national campaign to save energy and water, the rest of the world has a lot to learn from Cuba’s practices.
- Rather than using a rental car, we offer collective transfer service to our clients on many routes. This is especially practical if you’re traveling solo or as a couple. Bus service is also available locally between many tourism poles not available on our collective transfer routes.
- Rent a bike instead of a car to travel within Cuba.
- Use bicycle taxis to get around some of the urban centers you may visit on your travels.
- Sail around Cuba. Let the wind be your motor. Charters available on the south coast in Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
- Many of Cuba’s hotels use solar heated water
- There are many (sometimes underutilized) ecotourism properties in Cuba. We have selected many of these properties as our preferred lodging on several of our group cycle tours.
- If staying multiple nights in a property, many hotels also ask you to hang up any towels that you can reuse, reducing the need for daily laundering of linens
- Only use the air conditioning when necessary. Make it a habit to turn off all lights and appliances when leaving your room, if it’s not otherwise equipped with an automatic shut-off system.
- Eat less meat. In Cuba there are lots of bean-based dishes. Many Cubans don’t eat meat on a daily basis (mainly out of necessity, not choice) but we can learn from their example that a healthy diet can (and should) include less meat. A typical lunch for many common people in Cuba would be rice with a fried egg on top, plus perhaps some locally-produced seasonal organic produce such as avocado or maybe even a banana or some plantain.
- Eat locally-produced products where possible. If on a cycle tour with our company, our tour leader loves to make stops at rural fruit stands, sample fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice (often served in recycled beer bottles turned into drinking glasses) or purchase farmer’s cheese & guava paste for his tour group to snack on.
- Order natural juices in restaurants (instead of bottled/canned beverages) when available.