Learn­ing from a ‘mas­ter of dis­as­ter’

Expert Wal­beek de­liv­ers en­ter­tain­ing talk on cri­sis man­age­ment pro­ce­dures

Talk of the Town - - News - LOUISE KNOWLES

MAS­TER of dis­as­ter, Dr Bert Wal­beek, gave a very hu­mor­ous yet tech­ni­cal lec­ture about dis­as­ter man­age­ment at Sten­den Univer­sity last Thurs­day night.

His def­i­ni­tion of risk man­age­ment is having enough toi­let pa­per for the loo.

“I wish I did not have to be here today,” he said tongue-in-cheek, al­lud­ing to wish­ing that dis­as­ters did not hap­pen.

Many of the slides in his pre­sen­ta­tion were too jam-packed with information to fol­low ev­ery de­tail, but he went through sev­eral well-known ex­am­ples of re­ac­tion to and man­age­ment of dis­as­ters.

The first cri­sis man­age­ment in­ci­dent broad­cast on tele­vi­sion was the Chicago Tylenol mur­ders in 1982 and 1986 when a sus­pect mixed Tylenol with ar­senic. The com­pany spent $5-mil­lion (R58.6-mil­lion) pulling all the prod­ucts from shelves and re­turned it to shelves a week later.

An­other well-man­aged dis­as­ter was the 9/11 at­tacks on the Twin Tow­ers in New York. The res­cue ef­fort was co­or­di­nated by thenNew York mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani.

How­ever, Wal­beek said the BP oil spill dis­as­ter in 2010, and the way in which Malaysia Air­lines dealt with sad and an­gry rel­a­tives of the miss­ing pas­sen­gers of Flight 370, were ex­am­ples of poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Dis­as­ters af­fect tourism as crises be­cause “today the first ques­tion tourists ask is not how much, but whether a des­ti­na­tion is safe”, said Wal­beek.

He said the Chi­nese word for dis­as­ter was composed of two char­ac­ters – cri­sis and op­por­tu­nity. Thus, an earth­quake in Sichuan prov­ince killed 69000 peo­ple and one panda, but Sichuan was sub­se­quently mar­keted and be­came known as “the home of the panda”.

Wal­beek is res­i­dent in Bangkok, Thai­land where he is em­ployed by the Pa­cific Asia Tourism Association (Pata).

He earned the nick­name “Mr Bow-Thai” be­cause he al­ways wears a bow-tie and lives in Thai­land.

He was born in the Nether­lands and said he is still mar­ried after 40 years, even though his mother asked him, “Did you have to marry a German?” at the time.

His hobbies are opera mu­sic and col­lect­ing elec­tric trains.

He has an hon­orary doc­tor­ate from the Univer­sity of West Lon­don and is a lec­turer at two uni­ver­si­ties in Thai­land, as well as a guest lec­turer in Europe. He worked as a hote­lier and mar­keter of tourism be­fore he joined PATA and be­gan his ca­reer in dis­as­ter man­age­ment 25 years ago.

The open lec­ture was at­tended by stu­dents, Dr Rick Pryce of Sun­shine Coast Tourism and some in­ter­na­tional guests. No mem­bers of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity at­tended, even though they were in­vited.

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