VisitDallas officials admit some problems, push back on other findings in damaging audit

VisitDallas officials admitted Wednesday that some issues need to be addressed after a damaging city audit, but otherwise claimed the auditor was wrong about financial mismanagement.

At least once Dallas councilman has said the tourism group’s CEO and CFO should resign, but officials brushed aside that contention.

“He probably made that assessment without all the facts,” said VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones.

The audit questioned key performance measures from the group, like does an event really create 2,500 room nights. The metrics are used, in part, to justify Jones’ $700,000 salary. VisitDallas officials said metrics are a challenge, due to the growing independence of convention goers who book rooms at outside hotels.

“In the past attendees went to event website and page where they booked room. That is old school now,” said Brad Kent, Senior VP Chief Sales Officer. “The traveler is much more in charge of where they stay than ever before.”

As for the infamous $500 backpack charged to taxpayers, Jones says it was a clerical error and it was supposed to be charged to the airline that lost his luggage. Jones addressed his hotel stays that violated policy, by saying the policy needs to be updated for today’s hotel prices.

Officials also defended the high salary for Jones.

“We are a competitive, comparable market for CEOs of convention and visitors’ bureaus,” said VisitDallas chair-elect Joyce Williams.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings believes the salary, which is paid for by Dallas tourists, may need to be dialed back by the board.

“I’d be keeping bases lower and bonuses higher based on hard numbers everyone can see,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings, who asked for the audit, said there need to be changes made to the governance. Right now, the board is made up of an unwieldy 50 members.

“When you get so big, you don’t have tightness of strategy and oversight,” Rawlings said.

Councilman Scott Griggs, a potential candidate for mayor, is calling for more sweeping changes.

“We need a house cleaning of VisitDallas,” Griggs said.