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Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- The end of the world, as predicted by doomsday interpreters of the Maya calendar, may bring hundreds of thousands more tourists flocking to Mexico this year, according to the head of the country’s tourism board.
Visitor numbers will rise 10 percent from last year, boosted by tourists drawn to Palenque, Chichen Itza and other archaeological sites, and possibly pass the 2008 record, said Rodolfo Lopez Negrete, chief operating officer of the Tourism Board.
Trip bookings to the Maya region in the south of Mexico this winter have already been very “robust,” Lopez Negrete said. The Mayan culture flourished in Mexico and Central America until about 1,000 AD, including cities of as many as 100,000 people. December 2012 marks the end of the Maya calendar cycle, though some interpret it as an apocalypse, as in the film “2012” starring John Cussack.
“Mexico is a cultural superpower,” Lopez Negrete said in a Jan. 27 interview. “We already kicked off with a very strong season.”
Tourism is one of Mexico’s biggest foreign currency earners, after auto exports, oil production and remittances, bringing in $11.9 billion in 2010.
The nation is investing almost $10 million to promote destinations and new tourism routes in five Maya states, Lopez Negrete said, where he expects both local and foreign tourism to total 52 million people this year.
Initial results show all visits from abroad last year reached about 22.4 million, Lopez Negrete said, the same as in 2010. Trips to Mexico by air rose 2.1 percent over the same period, he said.
International travel peaked in 2008 at 22.6 million visitors, according to data provided by the Tourism Board. The U.S. recession and a swine-flu scare caused visits to drop to 19.6 million in 2009, before starting to recover in 2010, the data showed.
The industry has also faced U.S. travel warnings for several states as drug-related deaths escalated after President Felipe Calderon sent troops to fight cartels. More than 47,500 people have been killed from December 2006 to September 2011.
That hasn’t stopped Mexico from increasing its share of the U.S. tourism market, Lopez Negrete said.
About 16.6 percent of Americans who traveled abroad last year came to Mexico, up from 15.1 percent in 2010, he said.
“We’re still looking at the U.S. market as a wonderful opportunity,” Lopez Negrete said. “Americans are traveling closer to home.”
--Editors: Philip Sanders, Richard Jarvie
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