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'End of world' sparks tourist boom

There is only a year left before December 21, 2012, when some believe the Mayans predicted the end of the world.

However, unlike enthusiasts of other doomsday theories who suggest putting together survival kits, the heart of Maya territory in south-eastern Mexico, plans a year-long celebration.

Mexico's tourism agency expects to draw 52 million visitors by next year just to the regions of Chiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Campeche.The entire country usually lures about 22 million foreigners in a year.

It is selling the date, the Winter Solstice in the coming year, as a time of renewal. Many archaeologists argue that the 2012 reference on a 1,300-year-old stone tablet only marks the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar.

"The world will not end. It is an era," said a tourism spokeswoman for the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, home to Cancun. "For us, it is a message of hope."

Cities and towns in the Mayan region have started the year-long countdown.

The Maya reputation for wisdom has people taking the alleged prediction seriously.

The Mayan civilisation, which reached its height from 300 AD to 900 AD, had a talent for astronomy

Its Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 BC, marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and they wrote that the 13th Baktun ends on December 21, 2012.

The doomsday theories stem from a stone tablet discovered in the 1960s at the archaeological site of Tortuguero in the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco that describes the return of a Mayan god at the end of a 13th period.

Believers have taken the end-of-the world fears to the internet with hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs.

"The Maya are viewed by many westerners as exotic folks that were supposed to have had some special, secret knowledge," said Mayan scholar Sven Gronemeyer. "What happens is that our expectations and fears get projected on the Maya calendar."

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