LAS VEGAS — Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Thursday that drug violence in Mexico isn't hurting international tourism or the country's plans to grow the industry.
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Calderon told a group of travel industry executives in Las Vegas that international tourism was up 6 percent last year in Mexico, with 10 percent more American tourists visiting the country.
With 23 million international visitors last year and 6 million on cruise ships, Calderon said there were "almost zero" incidents of tourists encountering crime related to drug cartels.
Violence has been a consistent problem in Mexico, with frequent reports of killings and kidnappings related to the nation's drug war. Late Tuesday, gunmen opened fire in an auto body shop in the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco, killing nine people. In the southern state of Guerrero, six people were killed earlier this week, including four police officers.
The U.S. State Department has warned Americans to stick to tourist areas and legitimate businesses, avoiding areas where criminal activity might happen. The department said that while there is no evidence of criminals targeting Americans because of their citizenship, the number of Americans killed in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 111 in 2010.
Texas also warned college students earlier this year about going to Mexico for spring break, but Calderon said the vacationers encountered no problems.
"Let me tell you, I saw thousands, thousands of spring breakers in Mexico having fun," Calderon said. "And from my understanding, the only shots they received were tequila shots — a lot of them."
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, international visitors spent $15 billion in Mexico in 2010, up from $12.3 billion in 2009. Domestic travel spending was also up to $78.9 billion, from $68.2 billion in 2009, and the council projects both figures will be up again in 2011.
Calderon said Mexico is proving to be an attractive investment for foreign travel companies, with $4 billion in investments in Mexico during the first quarter this year.
"Mexico is a safe place to visit," Calderon said.
"Yes we have problems... We are dealing with that, we are facing it," he said. "But at the same time, we have everything."
Earlier this year, Calderon pledged with state governors to declare 2011 the year of tourism in Mexico, the start of a campaign to push international visits to the country even higher by 2020.
Calderon said that right now, Mexico is the 10th most visited country in the world by international travelers, and he wants that to improve to 5th by the end of the decade.
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