Mexico is safe for tourists despite the escalating drugs war, the country’s President Felipe Calderon told the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) summit in Las Vegas on Thursday.

President Calderon said the murder rate in Mexico was lower than in much of the US. “The rate of homicide is 15-16 per 1,000 – lower than in Washington DC, in Pittsburgh or in New Orleans,” he said. “It is lower than in Puerto Rico. Yucatan has a rate of less than two per 1,000 – similar to places in Europe.”

The president also suggested the US bore a responsibility for the increasing violence. He said: “There are 8,000 gun shops along the US side of the border with Mexico. We seized more than 100,000 guns from criminals and 85% were bought in the US.”

President Calderon said the escalation in violence dated from 2004-05 when a US ban on assault weapons expired. “That is part of the problem,” he said, adding: “Our neighbour [the US] is the largest consumer of drugs in the world and everyone wants to sell him drugs.”

Mexico had been hard hit by the crisis of 2008-09, the president said, and his government had made tourism a national priority in an effort to recover.

Earlier, Mexican tourism minister Gloria Guevara told the summit: “We are number 10 in the world for arrivals and we want to be number five by 2018. If we execute our plans we will create five million jobs by then.

“But if the government and private sector are not aligned, you will not achieve growth. In Mexico we have defined our objectives for seven years, with the government, the private sector, the unions, the state governors.”