Learning from a ‘master of disaster’
Expert Walbeek delivers entertaining talk on crisis management procedures
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.