The 17th Annual Habanos Festival kicked off Monday with a welcoming cocktail at the newly renovated Antiguo Almacen del Tobaco y la Madera warehouse/beer garden located in Havana’s old port. Over one thousand guests enjoyed the seaside views; opening comments from the Habanos executives, lavish buffets and a variety of rum cocktails. Continuous entertainment included performances by Dabid Torrens and Descember Bueno, winner of three Latin Grammy awards in 2014.
The Habanos festival draws thousands of cigar distributors and aficionados from throughout the world and is the opportunity for Habanos to showcase new products for the upcoming year. As usual, there is excitement about three new cigars being launched including the Romeo y Julieta Piramides Anejados and Montecristo Churchills Añejados.
The week includes tours of tobacco plantations and factories, a trade show, a Habanosommelier International Contest (for best cigar roller), special tastings and culminates with a gala and auction on Friday night with all of the proceeds going to the Cuban Public Health System.
At the press conference held on Monday morning the Habanos executives were peppered with questions about the possibility of entering the coveted U.S. market. Their answers were cautious as to the possibility and timing of such an opportunity but forecast that they could take 20-30 percent of the US market, which would translate into $190 million of potential new revenues. They described the U.S. market as extremely competitive and complicated. When asked if this increased demand would be a drag on quality, the executives insisted that the traditional and consistent quality that has kept Cuban cigars as the most cherished cigar in the world would not be compromised.
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer.