Hotel Online  Special Report


Crisis Management: Could You Cope
if the Unthinkable Happened

By Bert van Walbeek, HOTEL Asia Pacific Columnist
June 2003
HOTEL Asia Pacific columnist Bert van Walbeek – who produced a post-Bali-bombing crisis-management manual for PATA (the Pacific Asia Travel Association) – wonders if hoteliers are fully prepared in these uncertain times

We live in ever-changing times, where consumers are increasingly aware, lawyers are ever more litigious and the media increasingly willing to expose any weakness in a hospitality organisation or tourist destination. 

A company or region in the midst of a crisis cannot completely control these factors, as events in Asia Pacific have demonstrated loud and clear over the past 12 months. 

However, sufficient preparation and effective management can take the edge off the above factors.

Companies and destinations are now realising that they not only have a moral obligation, but also may need to take a legal stance to be prepared to cope with incidents that involve their clients. 

Planning, though critical, is not the only component. Training, conducting drills, testing procedures and providing additional external resources are other important functions. 

By doing the above, organisations can go a long way to emerging from such incidents with their reputations and/or corporate image intact.

The lessons learned in Bali are manifold and must be now used to prepare other destinations, as well as all their stakeholders – including hotels - for future crises. 

In essence, the following “components” are required in order to handle any crisis situation effectively:

  • Leadership (crisis coordination);
  • Adequate emergency response (ambulance/paramedics/medical support);
  • Victim identification;
  • Media relations;
  • Family assistance;
  • Information dissemination;
  • Internal and external communications.
An effective emergency response and good family assistance will reduce the frustrations that many people experience when caught up in the aftermath of a major incident. Besides going a long way to ensuring effective crisis management, it is also a humane, caring and compassionate way to respond.

Few crises will seem as dramatic as New York or Bali - unless it is your own. When your crisis occurs, the hardest part of dealing with it can involve answering the public call for information - as personified by a TV correspondent or newspaper reporter who shows up on your doorstep or on your telephone line to get the story. 

How well you respond depends on how well you are prepared.

While the existence of some of the above components may be based on the assumption of the pre-existence of a structured and experienced emergency services (police, fire and ambulance), this would be an unrealistic expectation. in many situations.

However, there are still some basic steps that governments/regions can look at in order to enhance their level of preparedness. This involves the triad of: 

  • Planning (developing written plans); 
  • Training (selecting and training the initial crisis responders); and
  • Regular rehearsals (conducting “major incident” exercises).
Local governments - or, even better, regional organisation like ASEANTA and/or PATA - could take the lead in this, and enhance their image, by
  • Creating awareness amongst the industry;
  • Organising training sessions for all stakeholders; and
  • Communicating their efforts to the consumer.
The key to success is intensive training, although indepth consultations towards establishing the exact needs of the participants is needed to tailor the final curricula to local, regional and inter-regional training activities.

The focus of the training sessions must be on senior and intermediate levels of management, with the aim that, by the end of the course, all those attending will be knowledgeable about the following :

Stage 1 : Before the Crisis 

  • What constitutes a real crisis; 
  • Why crisis management is necessary; 
  • Assessing potential crisis issues; 
  • Crisis-management team responsibilities; 
  • Setting up the emergency communication system; and 
  • Major elements of crisis management planning. 
Stage 2 : During and after the Crisis 
  • Structuring the media centre; 
  • Designating spokespersons;
  • Preparing “message points”;
  • Interview techniques and guidelines;
  • Controlling the story; and
  • Starting the “back-to-normal” plans.
In almost every instance of successful response to a crisis, management and response activities consisting of sound operating execution, coupled with superior communications, predominate. 

Operational response is essential – it’s the one that saves lives, property and other assets. The ability to communicate is no less important - it’s the one that saves the business.

The simple fact is: perception is reality, and public perception of your company's reaction to a crisis is as important as your operating response. 

There are no clear boundaries with any crisis. There is rarely a single moment when one can say an incident or issue has transformed into a crisis. Crisis-management experts recommend adopting a low threshold when defining a crisis, erring on the side of caution and assuming that a small episode can escalate into a crisis at warp speed.

The repercussions and impact of crises in tourism is manifested across a series of stakeholders. To avert mismanagement of crises and its consequences, organisations and destinations need to enhance their capacity to understand and respond to crisis situations. 

We all need to sharpen our skills at predicting and preventing such situations.

Bert van Walbeek is MD of The Winning Edge, a Thailand-based company which provides crisis-management services to tourism destinations and hospitality and tourism organisations. Contact: [email protected]

© Copyright HOTEL Asia Pacific


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Hotel Asia Pacific
Steve Shellum
158 Wong Uk Tsuen
Yuen Long
New Territories
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2882-7352
Fax: +852 2882-2461
[email protected]

Also See Back to Normal After SARS? Let’s Hope Not.../ HOTEL Asia Pacific / June 2003
Fighting Spirits! Rank-and-file Staff at Bali InterContinental Resort Talk About Their Hopes, Fears, Dreams / HOTEL Asia Pacific / April 2003
On the Chopping Block; Are You Prepared If You Get Your Marching Orders? / HOTEL Asia Pacific / April 2003
Trevor Bilney, Executive Chef at the Bali InterContinental Resort, Fights Hard Since Last October 12; Keeps Morale Up  and Costs Down / HOTEL Asia Pacific / March 2003
Hotels Stepping Up Security; Learning to Live with the Threat of Terrorism as Part of Conducting Everyday Business / HOTEL Asia Pacific Survey / March 2003
50% of Hoteliers Have Not Increased Investment in Security – More than a Year After the September 11 Attacks / HOTEL Asia Pacific Survey / December 2002
Security: Something No Hotel Can Ignore / Geoff Griswold / Summer 2002
Biometrics Lend a Hand to Hotel Security / Feb 2002
Hotels Near Airports Provide Better Safety and Security Features According to The Center for Hospitality Research - Cornell Hotel School / Dec 2002

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