PDA Q&A: Ismail Houmani, E-Interview

President and CEO, La Casa Cigars and Lounge, Detroit
Ismail Houmani

DB: Where are you?

IH: I am in Havana, Cuba, attending the Habanos Festival. It’s the annual convention for Cuban cigars, and I went with a humanitarian permit for cultural experiences.

DB: What’s it like there?

IH: It’s amazing. In addition to attending the festival, I’m visiting a lot of art museums, churches, and monuments. For the Habanos Festival, you have the opportunity to meet with all of the distributors of Cuban cigars from around the world. This year the festival coincided with the 50th anniversary for Cohiba (a cigar brand). I attended the Gala Dinner and Humidors Auction, which is a black-tie event where they raffle off humidors at the dinner.

DB: What was the bidding like?

IH: There were seven humidors that were auctioned off, including one that was especially made to recognize Cohiba’s 50th anniversary. That particular humidor had 50 cigars in it, and it went for 320,000 Euros ($362,000). The other six humidors went for between 75,000 ($85,000) and 150,000 Euros ($170,000).

DB: What changes are you seeing?

IH: I noticed it’s getting a little more expensive. Cuba doesn’t have the infrastructure yet, but there are more tourists arriving every day. Where I used to pay 80 Euro ($90) for a hotel room in Havana, now it’s closer to 250 Euro ($283) a night. It’s still a country frozen back in time. If the market for Cuban cigars opens up in the United States, the prices are bound to go up. Right now, Cuba has the capacity to produce close to 100 million cigars (a year), while the demand for cigars in the U.S. is over 300 million cigars a year.

DB: Where did you tour?

IH: I visited the tobacco fields in Pinar del Rio, where the finest tobacco in Cuba is grown. I talked to some of the growers, and unfortunately (last year) they planted the seeds earlier than normal because the weather was good, and then they had lots of rain, so they planted the seeds again and the same thing happened. Hopefully they have a better crop this year. Overall, I see lots of great things ahead for Cuba.