Learning from a ‘master of disaster’

MR BOW-THAI: International speaker, Dr Bert Walbeek, delivered a speech at Stenden University on Thursday evening, March 1 Picture: 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, alluding to wishing that disasters did not happen.

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

The first crisis management broadcast on TV was the Chicago Tylenol murders in 1982 and 1986 when a murderer put arsenic in Tylenol and the company spent $5-million pulling all the products from shelves and putting them back a week later.

Another well-managed disaster was the way New York mayor Rudy Giuliani handled 9/11.

But, the BP oil spill disaster in 2010, and the way Malaysia Airlines dealt with sad and angry relatives of the missing passengers of Flight 370, were an example 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.  Travel advisories frequently discourage tourists from unsafe destinations.

But the Chinese word for disaster is composed of two characters: crisis and opportunity.  Thus, an earthquake in Sichuan province killed 69 000 people and one panda, but Sichuan was subsequently marketed and became known as the home of the panda.

Walbeek is resident in Bangok, Thailand where he is employed by the Pacific Asia Tourism Association (PATA). He earned the nickname Mr Bow-Thai because he always wears and bow Thai 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 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.