by Lisa Grimaldi | February 01, 2004

There was a time when convention and visitor bureaus could be counted on to help their cities overcome the stigma of political scandal or other image-tarnishing events. While this still holds true for many CVBs, a growing number have found themselves the subject of lurid headlines, probes and executive firings in recent years. 

"Now is the time to make CVB heads the
most professional leaders they can be,"
says Atlanta's Spurgeon Richardson,
chairman of the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus.

   For meeting professionals who rely on bureaus for assistance with site selection, housing and myriad other details, the issue has become especially thorny, leading to breaches in longstanding partnerships and leaving some to look elsewhere for help in planning their events.
   As recently as this past November, headlines about a CVB executive losing his job amid scandal had the ring of familiarity. In this particular case, the CVB head was Eugene Dilbeck, then-president of the Denver Metro CVB. The imbroglio: an event at a strip club attended by bureau personnel. (For details, see “Behind the Headlines.”)
   In 2003 alone, similar scenarios were played out in some major markets:
   " In Ohio, Dave Nolan, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Convention & Visitors Bureau, stepped down in October 2003 amid allegations of lavish entertainment expenses and authorizing a $4,000 weight-loss program for an executive on his staff. 
   " In Maryland, Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO Carroll R. Armstrong was ousted last February following charges of inflated booking and membership numbers.
   " In Texas, Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau president Dave Whitney resigned in January 2003 over alleged lavish spending on travel and entertainment.
   Such stories certainly do not help the public image of CVBs. Because of their hybrid nature as part government organization and part private business, and their somewhat ambiguous standing within their communities, the role of bureaus is confusing to the public even in the best of times.
The cumulative damage of all the bad news has had an impact on meetings and conventions business, too. In an exclusive poll of planners conducted by M&C/NTM Research, two-thirds said they would avoid working with a bureau if planning a meeting in a destination where the CVB was involved in an ethical controversy. In extreme cases, they’ve pulled business from troubled bureaus. (For full survey details, see The Taint of Scandal.)