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What commercial figures did the last year bring compared to 2010 and what perspectives do you foresee for 2012?
Even in the deepest moments of the crisis, during 2008 and 2009, and despite a minor downturn, Habanos, S.A.’s sales kept acceptable levels in the face of the difficult international situation; this showed the strength of the company’s image and its loyalty of Habano distributors and consumers.

In 2010, the figures indicated a slight increase in the value of sales for a total of 368 million dollars. The good news about last year is that it strengthened the 2010 growing trend. The 2011’s numbers show a 9 percent uptick in value, which equals 401 million dollars in all.

There are certain markets in the world that are still plunged into a consumption crisis that affects Habanos’ sales in those countries (mainly Spain and Greece), though fortunately, important strong European markets, namely Germany, Benelux, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, have rebounded in their sales. This adds to the progress made in emerging markets such as Asia-China, Russia, Brazil and the Middle East, which come to balance the drop in those areas with greater difficulties.

In this sense, it shows that smokers are finding their places as they adapt to new legislations, which are, at times, extremely restrictive in many countries. Habanos  S.A.’s strategy of facilitating the existence of smoking zones, and helping in the development of outdoor smoking areas whenever they are the only choice available, has proved very positive and brings to notice that Habano smokers will always find a place of their own.

La Casa del Habano store franchise network, supported by a mesh of Habano experts, is contributing to this goal and also to creating a culture of knowledge and enjoyment about Habanos.

For 2012, we hope to maintain the rise in sales achieved by Habanos, S.A. over the last two fiscal years. This means to complete a series of three straight years of growth amid a very complex economic and legal context. Habanos, S.A. has remained steady for years and has maintained great momentum and good pace in the launch of new Habanos in a bid to meet the expectations of aficionados all over the world. In 2012, there’ll be once again a wide range of launches, so smokers will continue exploring the richness and diversity of Habanos. We also hope this move will contribute to keeping the upward trend line we won back a couple of years ago.

Every Habano Festival is a display of Habanos, S.A.’s creativity with new products and launches that are highly anticipated by both attendees and aficionados. What do you think the main novelty of those proposed for this year’s Festival will be and what strategy it responds to?

The 14th Festival will feature launches and celebrations we hope will be memorable to the eyes of participants and Habano aficionados worldwide. The main stars are usually some of our most important brands: Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas, Hoyo de Monterrey or H.Upmann.

This year’s Festival will feature many novelties, but if we’d have to pick the best one, I would choose the launch of a new cigar of Habanos’ flagship brand, Cohiba, that many aficionados have long been waiting for.

It is a new vitola in the Cohiba’s Linea Clasica, the founding line of the brand, with the added feature that it will be the first figurado (tapered) in the brand’s range. The Cohiba Pirámides Extra, is an exclusively Cohiba factory vitola that will allow even the most demanding smokers on the face of the earth to puff on the unique characteristics of the best tobacco leaves from San Juan y Martinez and San Luis in Vuelta Abajo, the land where the most sought-after tobacco of the planet is grown.

In addition, a series of authenticity signs in the Cohiba band, like holograms and other visible and hidden elements that make up an important step towards ensuring the cigar’s origin and warranty, will be presented as well.

On the other hand, the Cohiba Pirámides Extra will add the first tube to Cohiba’s Linea Clasica and it will be a more elaborate version with new safety measures and new design, all of which will be made public during the Festival. This is, therefore, a new product comprising additional innovative elements, so it could be considered as the most significant proposal of the whole Festival.

What other products will be rolled out and for what purposes?

During 2012, as traditionally, a new series of Habanos will be launched and gradually supplied to our distributors, Casa del Habano stores and retailers throughout the year. During the Festival, we will announce the Limited Editions in Partagas, H.Upmann and Montecristo; the latter will be marking the 520th anniversary of the discovery of tobacco with a very special Habano named Montecristo 520.

The launch of a Habanos Collection, the Replica Antigua Humidor and a new vitola specially made for the Casa del Habano stores are also part of the program. But perhaps the other two most important products to be introduced this year will be in another of Habanos’ greatest brands: Romeo y Julieta. On the one hand, the offer of Churchill Habanos will increase with the adding of the new Petit Churchill vitola, which is a Petit Robusto that will give us the full balanced flavor of a Romeo y Julieta in this small format.

This vitola will be part of Romeo y Julieta’s permanent range. On the other hand, a special numbered series of 5,000 boxes will be launched as the first Reserva produced in Romeo y Julieta, a brand that has more than 135 years of history under its band.

The size selected for this first Romeo y Julieta Reserva is the emblematic Churchill. Made with tobacco leaves selected from the best plantations of Vuelta Abajo in Pinar del Rio, from the 2008 harvest, it will boast Churchill’s historical band for the occasion.

One of the activities of the Festival will mark the 520th anniversary of the discovery of tobacco by the Europeans. What is the meaning of this celebration for such an international event as the Habano Festival?

If there is something that Cuba, the Cuban tobacco and Habanos can vindicate is a unique and singular history that has made the Habano become one of the products representing the image and prestige of this country around the world, as it undoubtedly symbolizes the very best of its type. It is not only that Cuba was the first nation where the first Spaniards landed in their vessels and saw for the first time the Taino natives smoking their cohibas in 1492, but also that since then, the black tobacco produced in Cuba has been considered the finest in the world. What’s more, it was in Cuba where the first cigar commercial names emerged in the 19th century, many of which continue to exist nowadays.

In this Festival we’ll be not only commemorating the history of Cuba and the Habano, but also celebrating the exchange that brought about that discovery in the 15th century, making it possible for several products that can be found everywhere in the world to be known now in other parts of the planet. Such goods as cigars, tomatoes, potatoes and chocolate, which were taken to Europe from the Americas and from there they eventually spread all over the planet by the hand of trade. Meanwhile, other commodities like sugar or coffee, which many might think hail originally from Cuba, were introduced on the island by the Spanish discoverers who in turn had collected them from other parts of the world.

Therefore, in this year 2012 we want to throw, by the hand of great Cuban and Spanish chefs, a very special dinner to vindicate the exchange of products that led us to knowing new elements, mixing races and embracing products from other lands that eventually became part of the cultures of many regions in a short period of time, following the discovery.

In 2010, Habanos, S.A. launched the Habanos Academy project and in 2011 the first Master Course was offered. Amid the complex context around Habanos followers, lovers and aficionados, what are your expectations about what the Academy may stand for?

The Habano, its history, the 27 brands, its factory and store vitolas, the tobacco leaves typology, the cultivation, the harvesting and benefits of tobacco, the Cuban tobacco plantation areas protected by the Regulating Council of the Habanos Protected Denomination of Origin, the aging, their pairings with other products, the way a Habano should be selected and smoked, where they should be bought, how they should be preserved, where they should be smoked … I just listed a few areas of knowledge which are in the best interest of Habano aficionados and of those in charge of taking the product to the hands of consumers in each of the cultivation stages, the manufacturing at the factory, the distribution and the marketing.

There is no a unique version of any of those topics, but there is a growing number of Habano enthusiasts who wish to have access to a reliable and affordable source of information about those areas of interest. The Habano is history and is knowledge; the creation of the Habanos Academy is a key element in this sense in its three levels of training, because it ensures the systematic access of all the members of this fascinating world to the training and information source the Habanos Academy is actually all about.

The program will be taught directly by Habanos, S.A. in courses called “Master” in Cuba and by the network of Exclusive Distributors in the rest of the world. It’s important to notice that a few years from now the content offered by the Habanos Academy will be available on Habanos, S.A.’s website.

The information of reference for the Habanos Academy is a material entitled: The World of Habano, co-written by members of all the entities making up the Regulating Council of the Habanos Protected Denomination of Origin. It comes in print and digital versions that will be available in 2012 in Spanish and English, and later on in seven other languages. It is our obligation to facilitate access to knowledge in an effort to foster the education of all Habano aficionados, distributors and retailers in all the continents. In this sense, the Habanos Academy is a huge step forward.

This 15th Festival brings us the first “Habanos in Images” contest that comes to further add more art and creativity to this legit party. What can this new idea contribute to the Festival’s program?

We always try to introduce something new in the Habano Festival’s program that attracts the interest of the more than 1,000 cigar lovers from over 60 countries that attend the festival every year and also of those who follow the event by different means worldwide.

Last year, the first Habanos Blindfolded Tasting Session, which as a matter of fact was a resounding success, was held. This year, we introduced an international photography contest for which a number of prestigious personalities of Cuba’s filmmaking industry will be jurors.

It might sound a hackneyed line, but there’s no doubt that “an image is worth a thousand words” and the objective of this new contest is to reward those artists who have known how to capture in images any of the interesting elements around Habano. The Habano is part of the Cuban culture and of the daily lives of the Cuban people. Those who succeed in better conveying the culture and lifestyle Habano represent for Cuba and for the rest of the world, will be awarded at the Festival and we will contribute to promoting their work by means of the attendees who coming from all around the globe.

I’m sure this new section will be one of the most appreciated initiatives of this Festival. In any case, we don’t stop here; we are already mulling over new ideas for the 15th Festival in 2013.

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