Substitute Holidays

Since explorer David Livingstone first clapped eyes on Victoria Falls in 1855, an entire tourist industry has built up around them. Visitors to the Zimbabwean side go bungee-jumping off the main bridge, raft down the Zambezi River and ride elephants through the bush. But lately political instability has been scaring travelers off. That's good news for neighboring Zambia--where the majority of the falls actually lie--which has seen a marked boom in tourism. In the first quarter of 2005 alone, tourism to Zambia jumped by 40 percent. "Zimbabwe has definitely seen a slippage in numbers," says Donald Pelekamoyo, tourism manager for the Zambian High Commission in London. "I would not say we have taken advantage [of the political situation], but we have used the opportunity."

As the expression goes, one man's loss is another man's gain. That holds true for many ravaged hot spots around the globe that have seen their visitor numbers dwindle after political turmoil or natural disaster. Those tourists don't stay home--they just go somewhere else. "It used to be that if something affected their chosen destination, travelers may well have decided not to go," says Tom Hall, Lonely Planet's travel-information manager. "Now people are determined to go ahead and have a similar experience in another locale." The 2004 Christmastime tsunami devastated much of Asia--tourism to the Maldives alone fell by 39 percent-- but the Philippines, which emerged unscathed, saw a 22 percent increase. And while Cancún--which lost almost half its hotels to Hurricane Wilma last October--expects 15,000 fewer visitors this spring, resorts farther south, like Cozumel and Akumal, are picking up the slack.

Perhaps no place has benefited more directly from another's tragedy recently than Mobile, Alabama. Located 225 kilometers down the Gulf Coast from New Orleans, the city--which claims to have held the first Mardi Gras in 1703--saw a 20 percent increase in visitors during this year's festival over last year's, thanks largely to Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Big Easy last August. But that doesn't mean Mobile is reveling in New Orleans's misfortune. "People make a trip up and down the coast so we benefit from their visitors as well," says Harriet Sharer of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We want to see them build up and return to normal more than anything." By keeping up the traditions, Mobile is doing its part to help New Orleans thrive again.

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