Disaster Perception and Media Influence on It

Comparison of Sensitivity and Resilience issues

The tourism sector has suffered a blow on many occasions following the vulnerability of different regions to natural epidemics. Many cases of natural disasters and catastrophes have been witnessed in the recent past. Cases in point are the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and the Northeast Victoria bushfire. Calgaro and Lloyd (2008) argue that the underlying sensitivity of disasters along the Indian Ocean as a result of the natural terrain of the region.

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Indeed, this was a natural calamity that affected all and sundry alike. Nonetheless, disaster preparedness and early warning signs are yet to be put into practice in order to reduce the magnitude of loss both in terms of human casualties and damage to property. The physical terrain of Khao Lak where tourist facilities are located is on flat land which extends many miles away to the foot of escapements. The clearing of bushes leaves the land vulnerable to tsunami waves leading to the destruction of tourist facilities. The unstable land tenure system is a contributing vulnerability factor in both situations since there is less need for land conservation leading to disasters like bushfires and tsunami waves.

The sensitivity factor for the vulnerability of Khao Lak and Northeast Victoria regions is limited livelihood options that have occasioned or precipitated high dependency levels on a single source of income. Cioccio & Michael (2007) reaffirm that businesses in Northeast Victoria rely on access to forests in national parks to provide their services to the tourist and the availability of the land for continuous use.

The continuous access and use of limited land was the cause of the 2003 Northeast Victoria bushfire in Australia. The limited livelihood is also experienced in Arugam Bay where more hoteliers rely on one income bracket for their survival. In 2004 after the tsunami, Arugam Bay had only five facilities which remained intact with few guest rooms for the tourists.

Khao Lak, Arugam Bay, and Northeast Victoria have strategized to deal with the aftermath of the disasters. For instance, Khao Lak has implemented strong tourism recovery policies following the destruction caused by the tsunami in 2004. Although much has been accomplished, there is a need to formulate a myriad of strategies and recovery policies in dealing with the negative perceptions by the public following the disasters that hit the regions. The same recovery policy has been used in Arugam Bay by implementing a tourism disaster management framework which outlines how the tourism sector is going to be reclaimed (Robinson and Jarvie 2008).

Contrasting the sensitivity and resilience

Lack of disaster awareness and preparedness was and has remained to be a contributing factor to the adverse impact of the 2004 tsunami in Khao Lak. The tourism industry and businesses are ill-prepared for risks and disasters especially in areas that are prone to epidemics. The meteorological departments warned on the expected tsunami which, sincerely speaking, was appropriate to caution the public.

Due to the ignorant and selfish nature of tourist operators, they ignored the warning and underestimated the devastating impact of the forthcoming disaster. Weaknesses in government structures led to a tsunami which rocked Khao Lak because the meteorological department warned of the possible threat of a tsunami, but was refuted by the Thailand government. It can be argued that the Thailand government mainly focused on the revenue being generated from the tourism sector and consequently, failed to alert the public of the possible disaster since this could scare away the tourists.

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Additionally, lack of professional managerial personnel and training among the tourist’s operators has to lead to a lack of proper planning in the industry leaving it vulnerable to the crisis which can be managed. Most of the business operations are carried out by one individual who is responsible for all the duties; which, in itself, is a crisis in the making.

Arugam Bay tsunami of 2004 was mainly aggravated by the geographical positioning of this location, usually prone to underground quakes. By the side, lack of advanced equipment to facilitate expedited rescue and recovery processes was also a likely cause of the massive destruction caused by the tsunami. As already mentioned, there was no earlier warning by the relevant government agencies in order to shield the tourism industry and allow for preparation for the expected disaster.

Effects of tsunami can be minimized if there is proper channel of communication to the public which is normally avoided by various governments. The master plan for the tourism industry created by the Thailand government did not have much in responding to the disasters following the high record of lost that was reported. A number of factors need to be considered in designing a master plan such as borrowing ideas from Japan. The latter has been facing disasters with minimal impact on the countries infrastructures.

As tourism industry in Khao Lak and Arugam Bay was responding to resilience of the tsunami, Northeast Victoria tourism industry had put effective measures in preparation for any disaster. After the bushfire in 2003, the tourism industry did not undergo major shakeup and their operations were not significantly interfered with since, they were prepared having vividly understood the possible threats associated with the disasters.

They hardly relied on a single business turnover as one of the tourist operators reported when he was interviewed after the bush fire. Tourism operators in Northeast Victoria are apparently prepared and use their meager resources in disaster planning and management by strategizing against any possible potential scenarios (Lusted, 2008; Paton & Moore, 2006). It is a vibrant strategy in dealing with disasters of such scales.

Uneven access to economic capital and insurance is a fundamental factor that contributes to vulnerability to disasters drawing examples fromKhao Lak. During the periods of tourist boom in the region, many small entrepreneurs got into the business by selling the small portions of land they had to generate capitals. This left them with minimum savings and reduced capacity to recover from disasters since they could not insure their businesses.

Lack of proper insurance cover by the small entrepreneurs has made it possible for the bigger investors to recover from the disasters because they are compensated for the risk incurred (Beirman, 2006). The uneven access to resources by the small entrepreneurs has led to slow recovery since they are not entitled to insurance coverage which could give them appropriate protection and compensation to facilitate their recovery. Northeast Victoria is also dealing with the recovery issue since most hotel personnel did not have access to insurance which has since lead to slow recovery.

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Following the recent disasters that rocked Khao lak, Arugam Bay and Northeast Victoria, it is important for tourism industry to diversify their operations and products to avoid risks associated with unpredicted market caused by disasters. The aftermath of tsunami ruined the Arugam Bay since the region depended entirely on Tourism business and had not diversified various sources of income. There should be prior warning to the public about the possible disaster and proper communication channel outlined.

Role of media in creating perception of destinations during and after disasters

Media is a powerful tool in the society owing to its enormous ability in shaping individual perception on the events of the surrounding environment. In particular, , more-so in events of disasters. It may be used as a tool for propaganda and as a result providing misleading information to the public depending on the degree of influence. Furthermore, the media may play either a positive or negative role in determining the recovery of affected tourist destinations during and after catastrophic events. The fact tghat the world has turned into a small ICT village implies that information portrayed by the media is capable of reaching far and wide within a record time.

With the unfolding events in disaster stricken areas, live media coverage conveys destruction of property, suffering and subsequent loss of human life which scares the public when continuously addressed. As tsunami hit Khao lak, coupled with the aftermath of the disaster as well as the continuous media coverage on the unfolding events, tourist flow to the region was greatly affected. Since every individual cares for his or her life, no one is willing to take the risk following the information conveyed by the media. The worldwide transmission of tsunami images accompanied by horrifying pictures of victims being swept by the tsunami waves caused panic among the potential tourists and investors (Robinson & Jarvie, 2008).

During the Northeast Victoria bushfire, the media reported that the whole region was under fire (Cioccio & Michael, 2007). However, this was not the exact replica of the situation on the ground. The media created a negative perception about the whole region including unaffected locations. Moreover, the negative media reports adversely affected the overall image of the various tourist destinations than it could be imagined. The bushfire in Northeast Victoria was not intense as it was earlier reported by the media in spite of the fact that it was perceived negatively by the public.

On the other hand, media is a vital tool which can be used to market a destination after a disaster by creating positive image. After the bush fire in Northeast Victoria, the media was used to solicit resources by mobilizing the community collective energy to enhance the recovery process. It can steer marketing campaign after a calamity by luring investors through creating an appealing perception to the public. It can also be used to attract visitors back to the affected region after a disaster as it was the case with Northeast Victoria which realized government funding like never before to aid in the recovery process following the bushfire.

For the positive perception to be enhanced among the targeted tourists, the media must be used to create that perception after the crisis. For instance, psychological preparation is necessary for an individual to travel to post tsunami destinations; media can play a role in such individual’s preparation. During the last tsunami which hit Arugam bay in Srilanka, many hotels had rebuild their infrastructures and were readily operating with numerous cancellations by visitors who were not comfortable visiting scenes of disasters (Haddow, 2009). Accurate information to the public by the media is essential in recovery process.

Strategies to manage negative perceptions of media

Strategies have to be developed to deal with the negative perceptions that media creates to the public especially during crises. Various governments through the World Tourism Organization have opted to put more emphasis on the communication strategies with relevant information targeting specific destinations to foster effective coordination among the stakeholders. Better still, they have resolved to pass information to prospective and active tourists through World Tourism Organization to correct the negative perception created by the media (Haddow, 2009). For example, many of the Southeast countries of Asia had to improve their perception following tsunamis and Earthquakes which hit the regions during the last few years in order to lure more tourists.

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India and Thailand have been overcoming the negative perception created by the media following the recent disasters by aggressively marketing their tourist products to the targeted destinations. Even though marketing takes a central role in eliminating negative perception, it is imperative to build the necessary infrastructures to promote and increase tourism activities. Similar strategies have been employed in Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami which the media reports highlighted it as an insecure destination due to its vulnerability to disasters (James, 2008).

There should be positive relationship between the major stakeholders in tourism industry and the mass media to assist in information management and communication process after any crisis. The very media can be influenced to promote positive image of affected destinations to neutralize the earlier perceptions of the public.

In recap, it is pertinent to note that media is a powerful tool in the dissemination of information; it plays a crucial role in creating various perceptions to the general public especially in the event of a crisis. Over the recent years, the media has been giving live coverage to disasters stricken areas majorly in the Asian continent. The public should be cautious enough when watching media content and the motive behind such information.

References

Beirman, D. 2006. Marketing destinations from crisis to recovery. Tourism Review International, 10: 7-16.

Calgaro, E. & Lloyd, K. 2008. Sun, sea, sand and tsunami: examining disaster vulnerability in the tourism community of Khao Lak, Thailand. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 29: 288-306.

Cioccio, L. & Michael, E.J. 2007. Hazard or disaster: tourism management for the inevitable in northeast Victoria. Tourism Management, 28: 1-11.

Haddow, D.G. & Haddow, K. 2009. Disaster Communications in a Changing Media World, Oxford: Elsevier Inc.

James, K.R. 2008. Crisis intervention strategies, Belmont: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Lusted, A.M. 2008. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, New York: Abdo Consulting Group.

Paton, D. &Moore J. D. 2006. Disaster resilience: an integrated approach, Springfield: Charles C.Thomas Publisher Ltd.

Robinson, L. & Jarvie, J.K. 2008. Post-disaster community tourism recovery: the tsunami and Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka. Disasters, 32(4): 631-645.

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