It's a sad truth for those who live in popular vacation destinations and depend on tourist income: When natural disasters hit and money is badly needed, there's a sharp decline in tourists. Not only do natural disasters cause physical damage that renders tourist attractions and accommodations unusable - temporarily or permanently - they also create an impression in the minds of potential tourists that the area is unsafe, at worst, and just not a fun place to visit, at best. (For related reading, also take a look at 10 Tips For A Cheaper, Better Vacation.)

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This year, which has been one natural disaster after another, has greatly affected popular tourist destinations such as Hawaii, Florida, the Dominican Republic, Japan and cruise lines traveling near these spots. Let's take a look at the details behind the lagging tourism in these once-bustling travel destinations.

In the worst cases, such as that of Japan, there is simply so much physical devastation that the country is too busy trying to recover and provide for its own people. Accommodating tourists, rebuilding hotels, and renovating attractions simply isn't high on the to-do list when other items of higher priority have to be done first - at least that's what most of us think, but is it true? Japan desperately needs the almost $5 billion dollars spent annually by American tourists in Japan, and much of the country, particularly Southern Japan, is still open, unaffected, and ready for tourists who are willing to discover the real state of the island.

Hawaii, always a popular vacation spot, was rocked by the aftermath of earthquakes in Japan, enduring a tsunami that resulted in an extended closure of popular Kona Village Resort for repairs, and the temporary closure of the Four Seasons Resort (both on the Big Island). Though some tourist attractions are sure to be effected, most of Hawaii's Big Island, as well as the smaller islands of the state, are operational and ready to provide tourists with the same beach-centered vacation. Travel deals aren't necessarily going to abound, however; since some of the popular resorts are damaged, and taking fewer guests. The ones that remain operational will be able to charge normal prices for the continued tourist demand.

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The Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, a "moderate" earthquake, which hit in March of 2011, was by no means as devastating as the similar one which rocked Haiti the year before. But will you still find the pristine beaches, endless parties (and accompanying, late-night loud music), food and friendly locals that drew tourists to the D.R.? For the most part, yes. The Dominican Republic is one of the top tourist destinations for Canadians and remains largely unchanged after the earthquake, continuing on with typical tourist-oriented activities such as new attractions opening and surf competitions drawing in crowds.

Florida has had to overcome quite a few challenges to its tourist trade. After the oil spill of a year ago, Florida had to not only deal with the beaches that were hit, but they also had to overcome the perception that its 1200 miles of coast were all blackened by oil. In fact, 90% of Florida's beaches were not affected by the oil spill, and the small percentage which were affected are now clean and ready for tourists. Now Florida just needs the tourists, who should find the same ideal vacationing that existed pre-oil spill.

As if the oil spill itself and the resulting misconceptions of Florida's beaches weren't enough for Florida to deal with, it also faced a devastating hit to its crops in January of 2011. Twenty-six Florida counties were declared to be natural-disaster areas due to the crop production losses incurred from frost and freezing. While another year will give Florida's farmers a chance to recover, can tourists expect a good experience this year? Locals think so, and certainly are ready to provide everything they can as they seek to rebuild their tourism-based businesses. From fishing boats to restaurants to purveyors of scuba gear and shells-in-a-bottle, Floridians are ready to welcome tourists with open arms. (For more related to the oil spill, check out The Most Expensive Oil Spills.)

The Bottom Line
In most cases, and in most of this disaster-ridden areas, the perceptions people hold onto from those initial images of devastation do far more damage than the event itself. If tourists can recover confidence as quickly as locals recover their optimism, everyone can strike a good travel deal. (For additional reading, also see All-Inclusive Vacation Keeps Travelers On Budget.)

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