World tourism set a record in 2006 despite fears of terrorism, bird flu and rising oil prices, the United Nations tourism watchdog reported Monday.

A total of 842 million international tourist arrivals were recorded last year, an increase of about 4.5 percent, the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization said, citing preliminary data.

By regions, Africa posted the biggest growth rate at 8.1 percent, benefiting from travelers' fears of terrorism elsewhere in the world.

"Although no destination is immune to terrorist attacks, sub-Saharan Africa in particular is seen as being a long way from the center of zones of tension and unrest," the agency said in a report.

Africa is also a lure because of its natural resources, including wildlife, and appeal as a place for "authentic" experiences for vacationers, it added.

The region with the weakest growth was the Americas -- just 2.0 percent -- due mainly to stagnation in arrivals in North America, the WTO said.