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26/02/2013

Beyond the tradeshows, theoretical events, tastings and pairings, the Habano Festivals have been from the very beginning a tribute to Cuban culture and tobacco industry traditions closely attached to them, says Ana Lopez, chief of Market Operations for Habanos, S.A.

The Habano Festival has always been a highly-acclaimed event among Habano enthusiasts that, since its opening edition in 1999, gathered over a thousand visitors in the Cuban capital, with turnout numbers that have either remained steady or increased through the course of these 15 years, Mrs. Lopez explains.

“Through all this time, the Festival has also added a series of events within its program, trying to surprise attendees with new things. Thus, some events with character of their own, such as the Habanosommelier Contest –it started out from the first edition– have done nothing but going stronger. Now, they are not only part of the festival programs, but they have also reached out to the different distributors catering to the different markets, so they have turned out to be a major challenge for habano-loving sommeliers willing to sign up.

“Another interesting event that has dramatically evolved is the alliance between Habanos and other denominations of origin. In the course of these fifteen festivals, Habanos have shared the spotlight with products like cognac, Armagnac, Oporto, tequila, rum, wine and other of tremendous international prestige which have seen the Festivals as an opportunity to show off the many common things they have to share with Habanos.

“Even though it’s very interesting for smokers to visit the tobacco plantations, the cigar factories, to attend the different master lectures or master class on cigar hand-rolling at the international seminar, I strongly believe one of the most anticipated moments is the launch of new vitolas that Habano, S.A. organizes during each festival.

“To rely on this framework to present the new products to the attendees is very useful not only for Habanos, S.A. as a company as it announces what will be going on in the course of the year, but also for smokers attending the event because they’ll be able to take the very first puff on the new products hitting the market later on.

“In this sense, the Festival is like some sort of thermometer to gauge tastes and preferences among aficionados, collectors, distributors and businesspeople who clearly cash in on this event to share experiences. For our part, the event gives the chance to make a firsthand assessment of the different products, check the reaction they’ll have in the market, so it’s like some sort of acid test for the new products because we can witness right on the spot the acclaim and acceptance level they’ll get.

“Fortunately, so far that acclaim and that acceptance have been very good, and that’s something we’ve confirmed later on with the good sales of the products in the different markets, as well as the faithfulness of the consumers.

“In addition, the Festival is the pinnacle for Cuba’s tobacco industry. Not only Habanos, S.A. makes preps for this event, but also the entire industry that deals with all the productions, the whole logistic infrastructure provided by Tabacuba, which is in charge of having all new products ready on time and with the quality consumers expect from them. Even tobacco planters make their own preps to welcome visitors in the fields.”

Many people who are probably unaware of what the event is all about might think the Festival is only for smokers. Is it really so?

No, not at all because from the onset the Habano Festival was conceived, above all, as a moment for attendees to take a closer look at the culture associated to the world of Cuba tobacco. The visits to the plantations and the encounters with the planters, the visits to the cigar factories and the talks with the cigar rollers bear out the assertion that this event is more than just the habit of smoking, but rather something done around the Habano’s centennial traditions that explain away why this is a unique denomination of origin.

“These bonds built around the land and the industry where Habanos are born, with the culture and the traditions, are simply priceless, and they can only be lived at the utmost during the Festivals.

“At the same time, the event has always tried to rub elbows with the best values of the national culture because the Habano, as part of the Cuban traditions, has always been a source of inspiration for different artistic expressions.

“In that sense, for instance, we’ve had the Habanos Gallery, a special place where people can look up at the work of those fine artists who have inspired on the Cuban tobacco and have depicted it in a variety of forms in their artworks. This initiative came to life during the first Festival, thanks to a nonpermanent exhibit staged by great Cuban and foreign artists. From that moment on, the Gallery has been part of the event’s program through these fifteen editions.

“In the same breath, we have always brought along some of the most representative artists and performers from the turf and overseas, many of whom have joined us during the opening night, during the great galas or the big nights dedicated to the distributors.

“For each and every one of the Festival’s main activities, we’ve tried to find places that could be interesting to visitors from a historic and cultural standpoint. With that view in mind, we’ve indistinctively promoted a multitude of contests, like the ones on audiovisuals and photography, let alone movie screenings on the Habano, fine art exhibits and literary presentations.

“All in all, there have been countless moments during the Festivals that prove why the Habano is a key element of our traditions; and that’s how we eye the Festival too, as a prominently cultural event dedicated to that great ambassador of the Cuban nationality called Habano.”

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