MEXICO CITY (AP) – The number of foreign tourists visiting Mexico surged to 23 million in 2008, up 5.9 percent from the year before, spurred by the tumbling value of the peso against the dollar, the Tourism Department said Sunday.

Mexico’s foreign currency income from tourism was $13.3 billion last year, up 3.4 percent from 2007, the department said in a statement.

If the trend continues, it would be a glimmer of hope for a country on the brink of economic recession as exports and oil production plunge.

But Mexican officials worry that rising drug crime will turn some foreigners away. The U.S. State Department renewed a travel advisory last week warning Americans about an increase in violence along the border.

Mexico attributes the rise in tourism in part to the tumbling peso and a drop in fuel prices that has made air travel less expensive. The department estimates that 80 percent of tourists in Mexico come from the United States.

On Friday, the peso weakened to a record 14.89 to the U.S. dollar. Mexico’s currency has lost about 30 percent of its value against the dollar since August, boosting the costs of imports but making goods cheaper for tourists with dollars.

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