by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | July 01, 2007


Michael Gehrisch

Maria Grulich

Focusing on finances:
Maria Grulich
and Michael Gehrisch


Over the past eight months, charges of financial misconduct have racked three convention and visitor bureaus, underscoring the urgency for standard reporting measures within an industry that relies heavily on tax dollars for existence.

At Florida’s Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau, where a May audit found significant lack of controls over its annual $250,000 travel budget, interim director Maria Grulich has moved swiftly to implement policies to mend broken fences and ensure the CVB’s integrity remains intact.

“In the past, everyone [planned] their own travel,” said Grulich. “From here on, we will have one in-house person handle all travel, which means we will be able to track all itineraries and spend.”

While the Kissimmee bureau’s travel budget represents only 1.2 percent of its $20.5 million annual budget, Grulich, who also is executive director of Osceola County’s Economic Development De-partment, said she is taking the audit findings seriously and plans to release a procedures guide in 90 days.

Among changes being implemented: All employee American Express business cards have been replaced with Visa cards that have specific spending guidelines tailored for the bureau’s staff. In addition, staff will be required to submit a report at the end of each trip detailing with whom they met and whether they felt the trip was beneficial to the department’s goals.

In other CVB news:

* Last December, the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bu-reau was thrown into turmoil when it was alleged that former bureau controller Donna Duffer had forged 222 checks totaling $1.5 million, forcing the resignation of both the bureau’s vice president of finance and its president and chief executive officer.

* Earlier this year, Cali-for-nia’s Fresno CVB was forced to scrutinize its operational policies after a former bookkeeper, Deanna Gonzalez, was charged with embezzling $56,000.

Michael Gehrisch, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Destination Marketing Association International, said DMAI is focused on getting the message out to its members that proper internal accounting practices are a top priority. This month at its annual meeting, held in Pittsburgh, the association offered for the first time a two-day course titled Destination Accreditation and Performance Reporting. “These recent, isolated events remind destination marketing organizations to be vigilant and that due diligence is a necessity,” said Gehrisch.