HAVANA – The luxurious world of fine cigars has inaugurated the 18th Havana Cigar Festival in the Cuban capital amid a thaw in relations with the United States, the world’s largest consumer of premium cigars and a rich market where the prized smokes hand-rolled on the island are expected to take their place in the very near future.
“It’s the most important market in the world for premium cigars. We would be delighted to compete in that market when legal conditions allow,” the Habanos S.A. vice president of development, Javier Torres, said in a press conference on Monday.
Habanos, which organizes the festival every year, is a mixed company with equal shares owned by state-run Tabacuba and a subsidiary of Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group, which markets in 150 countries the 27 brands of premium cigars hand-rolled in Cuba.
In the long term the company seeks to win a market share in the U.S. similar to what it has achieved worldwide: some 70 percent by units sold and 80 percent by value.
However, in the first years after an eventual raising of the U.S. embargo on the island it expects to start off with about 25-30 percent.
Though exports to the U.S. of this Cuban product are still banned, for the past year Americans traveling to the island have been allowed to return home with small amounts of Cuban cigars worth no more than $100, a “very modest” concession that “will have no impact on sales,” said Habanos vice president of marketing, Leopoldo Cintra Gonzalez.
This year the festival commemorates the 50th anniversary of its iconic Cohiba brand, an occasion for which the company has prepared the special Cohiba Medio Siglo version, adding it to other product launches this year, such as the 2012 Reserva Cosecha of the Hoyo de Monterrey brand, the new Magnum 54 cigar of the H. Upmann brand and the commemorative limited edition, the Cuaba 20 Aniversario.
In its 18th year, the Havana Cigar Festival brings together for five days some 1,500 distributors, specialists and lovers of Cuban cigars from more than 50 countries for a program of activities that includes visits to tobacco plantations in the Pinar del Rio region and to cigar factories, as well as the chance to attend master classes in hand-rolling cigars.