US and Cuban officials are scheduled to sign an agreement on Tuesday that will allow up to 20 scheduled flights a day between the communist island nation and the US, The Guardian reported.
The agreement, which had been expected since Barack Obama announced an easing of travel restrictions and normalising of trade relations last year, will allow commercial carriers to operate between Cuba and any city in the US for the first time in half a century.
The US deputy assistant secretary of state for transportation affairs, Thomas Engle, characterised the agreement, which will be signed in Havana next week, as "a very positive development". It will allow 20 flights a day to Havana and as many as 10 per day to each of the nine other international airports in the country.
The loosening of restrictions is expected to further speed up the rapid transformation of Cuba's US-focused tourism business. While US law technically prohibits travel to Cuba for tourism, the country has long been a destination for American travellers willing to undergo the formality of passing through the Bahamas, Canada or Mexico on their journey.
According to Bloomberg News, US airlines including American, Southwest and United are looking at opening up routes to Havana later this year. This spring, Carnival plans to send the first cruise ship to Cuba in more than 50 years.
The flood of US visitors is already under way. Authorised US visits to Cuba rose 50% last year, the US embassy in Havana, with visitors eager to see it before the changes their presence will make are made permanent.
Recent reports suggest that change is already well under way. Havana's rooms in hotels and guesthouses are frequently booked solid while tourist prices for even basic amenities are soaring.
Still, the rush of visiting celebrities has only just begun. According to the Wall Street Journal, the British series Top Gear recently tore around the streets outside Havana in cars filled with jet fuel, while Universal Pictures is planning to shoot a sequence of its next Fast & Furious sequel on the island.
The Rolling Stones, too, are booked to play in Havana next month at the end of their current Latin American tour, narrowly ahead of the luxury brand Chanel that last week sent out invitations for an ultra-exclusive cruise collection show in May, apparently unaware of the self-evident philosophical or political contradictions of staging such an event on an island where the average income is $20 a month.