Cuba's annual Cigar Festival is underway amid increasing demand but poor weather hitting tobacco crops and uncertainty about boosting sales to the US
Cuba is showcasing one of the products it is most famous for.
The island’s annual Cigar Festival, which runs until March 3, draws hundreds of buyers from around the world to party and tour plantations and factories.
Cuban officials say demand is soaring, even as a combination of poorly timed rains and drought have hit tobacco crop yields over the past couple of years.
Luis Sanchez-Harguindey, co-president of Habanos SA, which distributes and exports cigars on behalf of the Cuban government, explained: “The last two years have not been good, but it has not only affected us. It has affected all producers right around the Caribbean. This year though has been fantastic and despite the poor weather conditions, we have been able to continue to increase our business.”
Sales of Cuban cigars rose five percent last year to the equivalent of 419 million euros.
Habanos, which makes brands including Cohiba, Monte Cristo and Romeo y Julieta, said it expects moderate sales growth this year as it continues to tap the Middle East, Asia and other new markets.
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Cuba was counting on a boost in sales to the United States – the world’s biggest cigar market – after President Barrack Obama opened up relations with the country though he was not able to end Washington’s half-century trade embargo, but the election of Donald Trump has cast doubt over that.
Last October, the Obama administration removed limits on the amount of cigars American travelers could bring home.
Habanos Vice President of Development Javier Terrés said this made little difference to overall sales but it would help brand recognition in the United States.
Wholesale shipments there would require the US Congress to lift the embargo, a move that looks uncertain under Trump, who has threatened to reverse the detente.
However, better US-Cuban relations have helped stoke a boom in tourism, which in turn has lifted cigar sales in Cuba, according to Habanos. The number of visitors to the island rose 13 percent last year.
“Our sales in Cuba are directly related to tourism, and in effect, sales in Cuba have grown,” Terrés said.