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Will the cigars save the Cuban tourism industry? Havana, looking for new ideas

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For the Cuban tourism sector, the last two years have been difficult, according to an article published by the Russian news agency TASS. At first, there was a sharp decline in the flow of tourists due to the coronavirus pandemic, and after its gradual recovery (Cubans had high hopes of restarting the industry), Russia was imposed sanctions, which did not work. there were also direct flights from there to the island, and the prices of a flight to Cuba have risen.

In 2021, Russia ranked by far the number of travelers arriving on the island, which almost became a lifeline for Cuban tourism during the pandemic.

Tourism and cigars
Havana is now trying to attract new tourists and restore pre-Covid visitors from Europe and Canada. Tourists, in addition to beaches and Roma, associate cigars with Cuba.

Not only the product itself, but also an integral part of the culture – smoking in the Old World came from Cuba. Tourists are not only sold cigars, but also shown how they are produced and how raw materials are grown.

In addition to the cultural aspect, these practices also bring a significant income from sales to the budget. Cuban cigars are exported by Habanos SA. Half of its shares are owned by the state-owned company Cubatabaco. Habanos SA distributes 27 premium cigar brands, including Montecristo, H. Upmann, Cohiba, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta and Hoyo de Monterrey. Just a few days ago, the company’s representatives reported that it ended 2021 with a 15% increase in sales – their volume amounted to a total of $ 568 million. Europe leads in the number of customers – 59% of the company’s total sales, followed by Asia with 16%; America with 14%, Africa and the Middle East with 11%.

Tobacco growing regions
One of the best tobacco growing regions in the world is the Vuelta Abajo region in the western Pinar del Rio province of Cuba. The tobacco industry began to develop in the Vuelta Abajo in the 1830s. Air temperature, humidity, soil – everything here is suitable for growing tobacco. Tobacco plantations occupy about 25,000 hectares in Cuba. In addition to the Vuelta Abajo, there are four other tobacco growing regions in the country – Semi-Vuelta, Partido, Remedios and Oriente. But the Vuelta Abajo includes more than half of all plantations.

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In the first half of the twentieth century, Pinar del Rio was called the “Cinderella of Cuba”: the province is very beautiful and rich in landscapes, but was considered the poorest in terms of economics. Sugar production was once the engine of the Cuban economy. The region is now well known to travelers. An example is the small town and the Viñales valley in the north of the province. About a decade ago, the beauty and relief of the valley attracted thousands of tourists from Canada and Europe – here they can go horseback riding, mountaineering and trips to tobacco plantations. In a few years, the city has changed – many of its residents have expanded their homes to rent to their guests, and local authorities have given a little more economic freedom. It is now one of Cuba’s favorite “non-beach” places.

“Tobacco Road”
Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism and travel agencies are promoting trips to the Pinar del Rio region along the “Tobacco Route” (Ruta del Tabaco – in Spanish) – a tourist route bringing together a number of plantations. One of them, one of the most famous people on the island of ombre abano, lives, works and receives guests on one of them in the municipality of San Juan y Martinez ) Hector Luis Prieto.

“I’ve been hosting tourists on the farm for a decent amount of time – about eight years. We show them how the work is done so that they can touch the leaves with their hands, participate in their gathering and learn things about tobacco culture not only from books, documentaries, but also through feeling, living it. “It’s important for them to appreciate what they hold in their hand when they smoke a cigar. This is not only the value of the material itself, but also the work and love that they have in their hands and that the peasant puts in it “, explains Hector Luis.

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According to him, the direction of tourist flows to the region is not only today’s profit, but also tomorrow’s development opportunities. The conversation is periodically interrupted by the sound of a saw – farm workers are building a cigar production building, which will be done directly on site. “It simply came to our notice then. Usually, after collection and preparation, we sell raw materials to a state-owned company, but now I will produce [ trabucuri] and we sell them directly, the intermediary will disappear “, notes hombre habano. Under Cuban law, most of the crop is sold to the state at nominal prices. But expanding the opportunities to produce cigars for sale from the tobacco they kept for their own needs is a new impetus for development: more revenue remains in the region.

Ruta del Tabaco has already managed to reach the number of guests in the pre-pandemic period – it was mentioned during a conversation between a TASS correspondent and Hector Luis Prieto. Several groups of tourists came to the farm during this time, some of them visiting the region not for the first time, largely due to tobacco. “Some of us are here for the third time, others for the fourth time, we have visited more than one plantation in the region. Of course, you don’t come to Cuba exclusively for plantations: we stay in Havana for a while. But then we go on a “cigar journey” here, “says Jean-Luc, a Frenchman from Aix-en-Provence who is a co-founder in his homeland. of the city cigar lovers club. Here we make new acquaintances with local producers, and then we bring our old friends. “

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