For all the natural and man-made disasters of the past year, travelers seem more determined than ever to leave home.
Never mind the tsunami devastation in Asia last December, the recent earthquake in Kashmir or the suicide bombings this year in London and Bali, among other places on or off the tourist trail. The number of leisure travelers visiting tourist destinations hit by trouble has in some cases bounced back to a level higher than before disaster struck.
"This new fast recovery of tourism we are observing is kind of strange," said John Koldowski, director for the Strategic Intelligence Center of the Bangkok-based Pacific Asia Travel Association. "It makes you think about the adage that any publicity is good publicity."
It is still too soon to compile year-on-year statistics for the disasters of the past 12 months, but travel industry experts say that the broad trends are already clear. Leisure travel is expected to increase by nearly 5 percent this year, according to the World Tourism and Travel Council.
Tourism and travel now seem to bounce back faster and higher each time there is an event of this sort," said Ufi Ibrahim, vice president of the London-based World Tourism and Travel Council. For London, where suicide bombers killed 56 and wounded 700 on July 8, she said, "It was almost as if people who stayed away after the bomb attack then decided to come back twice."
Early indicators show that the same holds true for other disaster-struck destinations. Statistics compiled by the Pacific Asia Travel Association, for example, show that monthly visitor arrivals in Sri Lanka, where the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami left more than 30,000 people dead or missing, were higher than one year earlier for every month from March through August of this year.
A case commonly cited by travel professionals as an early example of the trend is Bali, where 202 people were killed in bombings targeting Western tourists in October 2002. Visitor arrivals plunged to 993,000 for the year after the bombing, but bounced back to 1.46 million in 2004, a level higher than the two years before the bomb, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association.
Even among Australians, who suffered the worst casualties in the Bali bombings, the number of Bali-bound visitors bounced back within two years to the highest level since 1998, according the Pacific Asia Travel Association.
Bali was hit again this year by suicide bombers who killed 19 people in explosions at three restaurants.
Visits are also on the upswing to post-tsunami Thailand, where the giant waves killed 5,400 and left more than 5,000 missing.
Although the tsunami killed more than 500 Swedes on the Thai resort island of Phuket, the largest number of any foreign nationality to die, Swedes are returning to the island in larger numbers than last year, according to My Travel Sweden, a Stockholm-based group that sends 600,000 tourists overseas annually and claims a 28 percent market share for Sweden.
"We were confident that Thailand would eventually bounce back as a destination, but we didn"t think that this year it would come back even stronger than last year," said Joakim Eriksson, director of communication for My Travel Sweden. "We were very surprised because we really expected a significant decline."
Eriksson said My Travel now expects a 5 percent increase in visitors to both Thailand and Sri Lanka this season compared with the same season last year. This behavior is a sharp change from the patterns of the 1990s, Eriksson said.
"During the first Gulf war we saw a sharp drop in travel as a whole, and the same after Sept. 11," Eriksson said. "Now the main impact of terrorism or disasters is a change in destination."