Southwest Airlines will begin flying direct between Grand Cayman and Houston, Texas, next summer.

The airline, which launched a direct flight between the island and Fort Lauderdale earlier this year, made the announcement this week.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell welcomed the news and said increasing the air lift into Grand Cayman was the top priority for the tourism sector.

“The successful addition of the Florida route this past June has driven incremental performance in the form of increased air arrivals and higher occupancy levels. Texas is a major source market for stay-over visitors. We anticipate similar success with the launch of Southwest’s Houston summer route,” he said in a press release Tuesday.

The flights will commence in June 2018. United Airlines also runs a service to Houston.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly last week, Mr. Kirkconnell predicted air arrivals for 2017 would reach 400,000 for the first time.

He said the next target was to pass 450,000 by 2020.

He added airlift was improving, citing American Airlines’ new service from Dallas, United Airlines’ increased service out of Chicago and British Airways’ decision to increase seats on its flight from London, England, as well as the new Southwest routes.

He said new hotel development must also continue to ensure there are enough beds for tourists.

“Growth in air arrivals will be supported by 1,200 more rooms coming to market through a variety of new and existing hotel developments,” he said.

“These properties, once they come on stream, will not only add diversity to our tourism product and provide us with new market sectors to attract, but more importantly, they will increase our room stock capacity by 20 percent.”

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