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The CRVA gives the public the facts

(Editor’s note: Hedrick wrote this column following a May 8 Charlotte Observer story on concerns about how much the CRVA spends on gifts and meals to boost the hospitality industry in Charlotte.)

So much can happen in the Charlotte hospitality industry in one year.

From the perspective that I live and breathe daily between Mondays and Fridays (and at least on my mind through part of the weekends), the hospitality and tourism industry in Charlotte has consistently been successful.

From month to month, hotel occupancy has risen (for 15 months straight now), we’ve landed the Democratic National Convention, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the new Crown Ballroom in the convention center have generated more than $215 million in new revenue and the most successful Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament in its history was logged in February.

Most reading this won’t recall the fact that the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, funded by hotel occupancy tax and food tax (not property taxes), as well as operations revenue, became a reality in just 2004.

The merger of the Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau with the Charlotte Auditorium Coliseum Convention Center Authority brought a combined work force, budget and leadership together to lead this region in an industry that is now responsible for $3.9 billion in economic impact for the Charlotte area.

We were one of the first cities in the United States to combine forces and to prove that more can be done when we put our minds and our energy behind an effort.

I’m challenged this month with writing a column that is politically correct, gives you a more behind-the-scenes look at what is going on in our industry and, quite frankly, doesn’t get me in trouble. This is where a smiley face emoticon would come in handy.

Unfortunately, due to certain reports in another local print publication, I have spent numerous weeks replying to questions daily, if not hourly, talking and meeting with my board of directors who have worked tirelessly helping us to succeed and get past the recent “issues” (the paper’s term, not mine) and help convince my fellow staff members that we are indeed going to be just fine.

Thankfully, we have a lot of support from those in the industry who do understand what it takes to do our job every day, to compete with every other city out there that wants the same business we do and to stay ethical all along the way, which we do.

How much do we say? What do our constituents think out there? Will our silence be considered a reflection of guilt or affirmation?

So for now we give the public the facts. We understand the importance of resolving issues brought to the public’s attention. After months of researching our records, interviewing staff and others, and after we have provided literally 20,000 pages of documents, we continue to respond quickly and comprehensively.

With respect to remaining as transparent as possible during this process, CRVA has begun working with an outside consultant, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, to examine organizational and operational issues and is complying with each mayor, City Council and media request for additional detail and compiling accordingly.

Many of these requests require extensive fact-gathering and sometimes even legal counsel, making them very time-intensive. In respect to media, we are maintaining constant communication by providing honest and timely feedback.

In addition to the overall checks and balances in place for many years (accounting and internal audit procedure) we implemented a CEO expense report signoff mechanism last September that requires the vice chair to oversee the approval of the CEO’s monthly expenses.

As stated above, the CRVA remains committed to delivering quality results for the tourism, convention and hospitality industry and Charlotte’s citizens. As good stewards of the region’s hospitality taxes, the CRVA helps to maximize this economic impact for the thousands of workers involved in this industry.

The CRVA will remain focused in its mission, looking forward to major industry events such as the 2012 Democratic National Convention and continued support of the CIAA tournament through 2014.

In the meantime, we will enjoy celebrating the first anniversary of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, have fun with all who celebrate race month and more and, of course, look forward to the consultant’s feedback so we can move on with bringing more tourism and conventions to Charlotte.

Molly Hedrick is senior director of communications for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

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