EFEHavana

Turkish Airlines, Turkey's flag carrier, started offering direct flights Tuesday connecting Istanbul, Caracas and Havana in an effort to "link and expand contacts" between the Eurasian country and the Caribbean, company executives said.

Mehmet Büyükeksi, a member of the Turkish Airlines board and president of the Turkish Exporters Association (TIM), said during a ceremony in Havana that the new route, which expands the airline's destinations around the world to 295, will offer economic and cultural benefits.

"We see Havana and Caracas as very important points among our destinations and within our expansion plans for Latin America and the Caribbean," Büyükeksi said.

The new route means Turkish Airlines will be able to offer service to more travelers, who can now fly from Istanbul to 102 cities, including Paris, London, Madrid, Amsterdam, Beijing and Moscow, Büyükeksi said.

Havana tourism chief Sonia Beltran welcomed the travelers on the inaugural flight and praised the "safety, and cultural and ecological riches" Cuba has to offer Turkish visitors.

Visitor arrivals from Turkey were up 8.5 percent as of Oct. 31, Beltran said.

Turkey's flag carrier, founded in 1933 with five planes, operates 334 cargo and passenger planes, flying to 295 destinations, of which 246 are foreign and 49 domestic.

Turkish Airlines carries about 60 million passengers annually.