Mexico expects a record number of foreign tourist arrivals this year despite security problems stemming from drug violence, Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara told Efe.

The number of foreigners who entered Mexico between January and July rose by 6 percent relative to the same period of 2011, and therefore Guevara expects last year's record of 23.4 million foreign tourists will be eclipsed.

"We're estimating that we'll grow between 5 percent and 9 percent" in 2012, Guevara said during an appearance at a tourism conference in Quito.

Crime is a challenge for the industry but, even so, tourism numbers are expected to continue their upward trend, she said.

"We have 2,500 municipalities, according to figures from the government secretary, and the challenges we're experiencing are concentrated in 80 of them. However, the tourists go to tourist destinations and those are tranquil. They're at peace," Guevara said.

Conflict among rival cartels and between the traffickers and the security forces has claimed some 60,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon - whose term ends Nov. 30 - militarized the struggle against the drug trade.

The Tourism Secretariat estimates that in 2012 the number of domestic and international tourists in Mexico will surpass 200 million, up from the previous record of 191 million set last year.

Tourism accounts for 9 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product and employs 2.5 million people directly and nearly 5 million people indirectly, Guevara said. EFE