HAVANA – Cigar aficionados from across the world are descending on Cuba, for a prestigious festival in Havana.
It comes at an unusual time with Cuban cigar sales hitting a record high in 2017, with China being the third largest consumer market.
The 20th Habanos Cigar Festival, which opened Monday, features a glamorous line-up of cigar varieties, as well as gala dinners, seminars, factory visits and the renowned cigar sommelier contest.
The annual celebration – dedicated to Cuba's legendary cigar-making history – attracts over 2,000 cigar manufacturers, distributors, buyers and aficionados from more than 70 countries, making it the largest cigar gathering over the past two decades.
The cigar has been one of the most important sources of Cuba's exchange revenues. The global revenue of Habanos SA – Cuba's leading premium cigar company – surged 12 percent to $500-million (R5.8-billion) in 2017, according to the conglomerate's commercial vice president. Its hand-made upscale cigar products have all along maintained the leading position across the world, accounting for 70 percent of the international cigar market except the United States.
China has now become the third biggest market for Cuban cigars after Spain and France with sales to Beijing increasing 18 percent year-on-year.
It is still illegal for Americans to light up cigars from Havana, due to a decades-long trade embargo.
"What's important is that the Chinese market encounters our long-standing cigar culture. We are similar in both being ancient civilisations, which, I think, can become a wonderful converging point between our two countries. We have many expectations, and we are in talks already. There’s no doubt that the Chinese market possesses huge potential," said Leopoldo Cintras González, commercial vice president of Habanos SA.
The prestigious festival is not only a gala of cigar lovers but also provides a rare opportunity for international cigar manufacturers and distributors to promote their products. A total of 184 companies from 14 countries participated in this year's gathering. They bring here a dazzling variety of cigar cabinets, humidors, drinks and tools.
"For us, the Habanos Cigar Festival is a very good chance to promote our products to the rest of the world, because all celebrated cigar aficionados have come here," said Li Jigang, a Chinese businessman.
The festival runs until Friday.