Over the years the Habano Festival has maintained its celebratory spirit, honoring the best tobacco in the world; and has not only become the leading event showcasing high quality Cuban cigars but is also recognized as the ideal place for habano lovers from around the world to come together.
Since the first edition of the festival in 1999, every year during the last week of February, Havana becomes the globe’s cigar capital.
The event is attended by a wide variety of participants, from lovers of this unique product; industry professionals such as distributors and specialist retailers; international figures from the worlds of culture, gastronomy, film, fashion and sports; to collectors and luxury consumers, all of whom share a single passion: Cuban cigars.
The 20th Habano Festival is scheduled to take place from February 26 through March 2, which in addition to celebrating the best premium, hand-rolled cigars in the world, will also see participants learn more about the secrets of one of the island’s oldest and most treasured traditions.
Surprises, new offers, and launches of exclusive vitolas; as well as
pairings with some of the best products in the world which also boast
the title of protected designation of origin, will all feature during
the event, about which Granma International spoke with Inocente Núñez
Blanco (INB) of Cuba and Luis Sánchez-Harguindey (LSH) from Spain,
representatives of Habanos S.A, event sponsor and leading distributor of
Cuban cigars worldwide.
Over almost two decades of festivals, what has been the event’s key contribution for Cuba and a product like Cuban cigars?
INB: The contribution has been very positive for various reasons. Business has steadily grown over recent years and we have gained new consumers.
Our distribution network has expanded year after year, as such Cuban cigars are now present in over 165 markets (countries), with the exception of the United States (due to the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba).
Our marketing strategy undertaken over the years, in addition to the
festivals, has helped to maintain the passion for Cuban cigars despite
current international restrictions, which facilitate and regulate all
promotional and consumption activities related to this product.
What new offers will be presented at this year’s festival and to what brand will the event be dedicated?
There will be lots of new offers because we want to highlight Habanos S.A.’s main brands during this 20th edition. This is why we will be dedicating nights to the famous Cohiba cigar brand with the presentation of the Robusto Reserva vitola, 2014 Harvest, as well as Partagás with its Maduro No.1, No.2 and No.3 lines.
We will also be launching Hoyo de Monterrey, Le Hoyo Rio Seco, and Vegueros Centrofinos cigars.
Other new offers that visitors will greatly appreciate during this event will be the launch of the 2018 Limited Edition Romeo y Julieta Tacos, Bolivar Soberano and H. Upmann Propios, among others.
There will also be a special cigar tasting with Torres brandies from Spain, and the first international Habanos World Challenge (HWC) contest.
(The aforementioned event will see contestant’s knowledge of cigars
and different stages of its development – from agricultural and
industrial processes to practical and demonstrative aspects – put to the
test. Winners of qualifying rounds held in different countries will
travel to Havana to participate in the final.)
Tell us a bit about Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz’s relationship with the festivals…
The first Habano Festival was held in 1999 and was honored with the presence of Fidel, who gave a speech after the auctioning of five precious wood humidors specially designed for the occasion and signed by him.
He also attended the second festival in 2000 and alongside him at his table was celebrated Colombian writer and Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Gabriel García Márquez. He attended the auction of six humidor made exclusively for the occasion and a set of two boxes of antique cigars, all signed by him. Funds raised in these auctions are donated in their entirety to Cuba’s National Public Health system.
Later on, the Comandante en Jefe’s interaction with figures who participated in these events had a notable influence on the impact of the festivals.
Nor can we forget that the Comandante en Jefe of the Cuban Revolution and his close collaborator and comrade in the struggle in the Sierra Maestra Celia Sánchez Manduley, who founded the prestigious Cohiba brand in 1966, the most famous in Habanos S.A’s catalogue, and distinguishing Cuba in any scenario, specialist or not, in the world of cigars.
It is precisely for these reasons and the fact that Fidel and Celia
created it, that we are so meticulous and rigorous with this brand.
The benefit auction supporting the Cuban Public Healthcare system is an eagerly awaited event. After 19 festivals how much money has been raised?
The traditional auction is a highpoint for participants at the festival. Prestigious Cuban artists have made tasteful, creative and beautiful humidors which have been auctioned.
Over the last 19 habano festivals we have raised around 17.4 million USD for the Cuban public healthcare system.
Who are the artists this year that participated in creating the humidors for the upcoming auction and how many will be available to purchase?
LSH: With a product as prestigious as the Cuban cigar, we needed to have recognized artists creating the humidors, and Cuba has a long tradition of celebrated artisans and metalworkers.
As this is the 20th anniversary of the festival, we must up our efforts, which is why we are collaborating with highly regarded artists like José Roberto Fabelo Pérez, painter, sculptor, illustrator – who works with a range of different materials (wood, paper, fabric) – and one of Cuba’s most celebrated contemporary artists; or José Ernesto Aguilera, passionate about metalwork; as well as masterful artisans like Jorge Gil and Neury Alberto Santana. This year we are going to auction six humidors.
When exhibiting our products we always focus on our global brands; such is the case this year with our Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Partagás, H. Upmann y Hoyo de Monterrey collections.
However, another one: Rey del mundo will also be included in this
edition of the festival. We do this sometimes because we want fans to
become more familiar with other, lesser known but important brands,
which we want to promote, and this is what we are hoping to do with Rey
del mundo. So we will be auctioning six humidors with six global brands,
as well as one featuring Rey del mundo cigars.
How many international participants are expected to attend?
The event is attended by lovers of Cuban cigar and industry figures from all countries. Participation in the festival usually ranges from between 1,500 to 2,000 people and we hope to see a similar number this year.
Various activities will be taking place over the course of the week, including seminars, a trade fair, and other activities which have been expanding year after year.
For this year’s festival we have about 85 expositors at the trade fair, with some countries participating for the first time, including Costa Rica, Bolivia and Colombia.
What we want to do with this year’s festival is expand cigar culture and make it more attractive to more people.
Our festival is the largest global event dedicated to premium cigars.
We have an extensive distribution network with retail outlets in over
100 countries and highly knowledgeable distributors who also organize
local events, which together with the Habano Festival, are some of the
most renowned in the world.
How is Habanos S.A.’s catalogue structured?
Our catalogue is divided into two main sections; one which features our global brands of which there are six, like I mentioned before; and then we have another divided into brands according to value and volume, because our business is one based on value, however, we must also bear in mind those brands that we wish to feature in a more affordable price range.
So, our catalogue contains 27 brands and over 300 references, giving
us a wide range with which to compete depending on the consumers’ price
bracket and preference.
So the Cuban cigar business is doing well?
It is an ever improving business and one that continues to grow, as compared to others like the declining cigarette industry, which, in the world of cigars, is quite a statement.
Our counterparts, with an in-depth knowledge of one of Cuba’s most iconic and traditional products, agree that Cuban tobacco is universally renowned for its uniqueness.
According to Núñez Blanco, there have been attempts to imitate Cuban tobacco all of which have been unsuccessful, as this aromatic leaf belonging to the Solanaceae family, is born from the specific characteristics of Cuba’s climate, sun, soil, and the hard work and know-how of experienced tobacco producers and cigar makers, as well as the heritage of a country where habanos mean culture, tradition and cubanía.
- In Cuba, the 1492 Spanish expedition commanded by Christopher Columbus saw tobacco for the first time in the New World. The Taino Indians rolled and burnt some mysterious leaves, which they called “Cohiba”, in a ceremony unknown to the Spaniards. From that starting point more than five hundred years ago, tobacco has been traded and planted throughout the world. Since its discovery, Tabaco Negro Cubano or Cuban Black Tobacco has been considered the best in the world.
- All Habanos are crafted “Totalmente a Mano” totally by hand using methods that were pioneered in Havana two centuries ago and remain virtually unchanged to this day.
- Habanos,S.A. was founded in 1994 and is a Cuban joint venture with capital owned 50%-50% by Cubatabaco, a Cuban Government company and Altadis, a Spanish company owned by Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, a British Tobacco Company. The company is the world leader in the commercialization of premium cigars, maintaining a presence in over 150 countries through its distribution network.
- Habanos,S.A has received Authorized Economic Operator status from the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba awarded to entities which guarantee reliability and security throughout their entire supply chain.
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