Natural disasters strike fear in the hearts of hotel investors, many of which saw prized assets decimated by hurricanes in recent years. But appraiser Steve Rushmore, president and founder of hotel consulting firm HVS International, has a different take on catastrophe.

“After every U.S. natural disaster, hotels in the affected markets have all benefited from steep value increases,” says Rushmore, addressing the NYU Hotel conference earlier this week.

One year after the October 1989 earthquake, for example, hotel values increased by $18,000 in San Franciso. The national average, however, actually declined by $6,000 between 1989 and 1990, based on HVS data. Rushmore also cites Hurricane Andrew, which tore through Southern Florida in August 1992. The average value of a hotel in Fort Lauderdale increased by $27,000 between year-end 1991 and 1992. That was markedly higher than the U.S. average of $2,000 during that period, too.

Not surprisingly, Rushmore advises hotel investors to buy in markets like San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. There are only two interior U.S. markets that Rushmore sees as good buying opportunities: San Antonio and Santa Fe.

Looking forward, Rushmore projects that hotel values in key coastal markets such as Miami and San Francisco will continue to outpace the national average. In San Francisco, for example, he projects that values will increase by $161,000 between 2005 and 2010 — third highest appreciation of all markets. Miami hotels should appreciate by $137,000 over the next four years.

“Look for New Orleans to re-emerge as one of the top U.S. destinations,” says Rushmore, who doesn’t see national hotel values declining until 2009 at the earliest.