The Habanos International Cigar Festival has opened in Havana. And this year the Cuban cigar industry is in a buoyant mood reporting record global sales, helped by significant growth in China. CGTN’s Michael Voss has more.
At a smoke-filled opening news conference, the company announced it had, for the first time, sold $500 million worth of cigars, an increase of 12 percent over the previous year.
Habanos S.A is a joint venture between the Cuban state cigar company and Britain’s Imperial Tobacco.
Spain and France remain its top two markets, but China, in third place, has had a major impact, according to Jose Maria Lopez, Vice President of Development for Habanos.
“Our biggest growth is in one of our biggest markets which is China. When we speak about China we speak about Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao,” said Lopez.
Sales to China jumped by 33 percent in value terms in 2017, according to Habanos. This was helped by an agreement signed last year with China’s state-owned National Tobacco Corporation. The accord covers distribution and sales but could later extend to production and technical cooperation.
More than an estimated 300 million Chinese smoke, according to the World Health Organization, almost a third of all the smokers in the world. And as people become more affluent, some are turning to cigars.
Habanos Vice President for Marketing, Leopoldo Cintra, believes there is an enormous potential for further growth in China.
“If we can finally manage to enter into this market properly with the right assortment with the right price, for sure, we will expect a huge increase in our sales,” Cintra said.
Cuba still can’t sell directly to the world’s largest market for premium cigars, the United States, but elsewhere Cuba accounts for 80 percent of sales worldwide in terms of value.
The opening night gala and champagne reception provides a chance to sample some of this year’s new cigar releases.
And while Cuban cigars can’t be sold in the United States, Americans can still travel here to buy cigars and bring them home.
The U.S. has started re-imposing travel restrictions, making it harder to come to Cuba, but there’s no shortage of Americans attending this year’s cigar festival.
Nicholas Syris runs Cigar Tours to Cuba and continues to get requests to come here.
“It’s because it’s unobtainable legally in the United States. So Americans, or anybody, likes things you can’t get, so everybody wants what they can’t have,” said Syris.
There had been fears that Hurricane Irma, which ripped across the island’s northern coast last September, might damage this year’s tobacco crop. In the end, the main plantations were not affected. Instead, the end of the drought has resulted in a bumper harvest.