MEXICO CITY — Tourism officials here have set a lofty goal: to propel Mexico into the top five of worldwide destinations by 2018.

Mexico currently ranks 10th in international arrivals, according to World Tourism Organization statistics.

"We have clear goals to position ourselves in the top five," said Rodolfo Lopez, chief executive of the Mexico Tourism Board, during the first International Tourism Fair of the Americas, known locally as FITA.

Mexico currently attracts 8 million international visitors a year and would have to double that number, to 16 million to reach its target.

"It’s a very ambitious task," Lopez said. "This means that we must grow double digits every year for eight years. This may sound optimistic, but the good news is that the market is there."

Mexico has the culture, history, varied landscape and geography to make it into the top five, officials said.

The question is whether the ongoing drug cartel violence will hamper its efforts to boost tourism.

"There’s a perception of violence, and that is our image abroad," said Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, former tourism minister, who spoke at FITA. "It’s not easy to fight that perception."

But officials said the safety issue is a misperception and believe it is a short-term issue. They are focusing on the long term.

"We know our consumers, and we know the barriers," said Lopez. "If we understand them correctly, there is no reason Mexico cannot achieve these goals."

The first step is this year’s $35 million North American TV, print and billboard campaign, called "The Place You Thought You Knew," which promotes lesser-known destinations and Mexico’s rich history and culture. The campaign is designed to draw affluent, sophisticated visitors who are looking for more than the typical sun-and-surf vacation.

So far this year, international arrivals are up 20% compared with last year.

Lopez is part of a new team at the board, headed by former Sabre executive Gloria Guevara, the minister of tourism, who, as one of her first actions, launched a program titled "Rutas" that promotes lesser-known destinations.

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