quits HVCB

A recent audit criticized
the head of the tourism
marketing bureau for using
state funds inappropriately

The president and chief executive of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, Tony Vericella, resigned yesterday over a state audit that criticized the bureau's spending practices.

In a statement last night, Vericella said he believes his resignation is in the best interests of the islands.

"I believe that by stepping aside, HVCB will be better able to move forward with the essential task of marketing the state of Hawaii unimpeded by the issues surrounding the legislative auditor's report," Vericella said.

"I am very proud of what HVCB has been able to accomplish during my tenure and believe the bureau's record of achievements during that time speaks for itself. I have put my heart and soul into showcasing Hawaii, and everything I have done has always been with the best of intentions for the people of Hawaii."

The state audit, released earlier this month, found that the bureau had awarded a lucrative contract to its former vice president to develop international markets, used state funds inappropriately for Vericella's personal expenses and had questionable accounting practices.

Vericella has apologized for the personal expenses and reimbursed the bureau. Also, the bureau has made several policy changes.

Vericella announced his resignation to an executive board committee of the nonprofit visitors bureau yesterday morning. Vericella was concerned that the audit was putting a focus on his management style and decisions, rather than the bureau's marketing efforts, said Tony Guerrero, chairman of the bureau's 38-member board of directors and member of the executive committee.

The bureau, a century-old organization that has always held the state contract to market Hawaii to travelers, is facing competitive bids for the contract. The board of the Hawaii Tourism Authority is scheduled to discuss the bids Thursday morning and has the option of awarding parts of the contract to other organizations to cover specific geographic regions of the world, such as Japan or Europe. Following the release of the critical audit of the bureau, Gov. Linda Lingle has said there is a high probability that HTA may award part of the contract to other organizations.

Meanwhile, the board of the tourism authority met yesterday behind closed doors to discuss pursuing a more in-depth audit of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau. The state attorney general's office is conducting a preliminary investigation of the HVCB audit, as a priority matter. And the heads of a joint House-Senate tourism committee recommended last week that the Legislature form an investigative committee with subpoena powers to probe the bureau, depending upon the outcomes of the other investigations.

The board of the visitors bureau had not sought Vericella's resignation and gave him a unanimous vote of confidence last week.

"He was an intense manager," Guerrero said of Vericella. "He was on top of everything and was pretty persuasive, but he got the job done and he got the results, and that's why he had the vote of confidence of the board of directors."

Les Enderton, executive director of the Oahu island chapter of the bureau, will serve as interim president in addition to his current duties during the search for Vericella's successor.

Vericella was named president and chief executive of the visitors bureau in 1997, replacing Paul Casey, then-head of Hawaiian Airlines.

Vericella, a former chairman of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, received $391,310 as total private-funded compensation from the bureau in 2001.

Vericella came to Hawaii in 1983 and has worked for Hawaiian Airlines, American Express Travel Related Services and Budget Rent A Car.

His resignation comes as Hawaii tourism is emerging from the strains of world events, including the war with Iraq, SARS in Asia and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Japanese visitor arrivals dropped by one-third in April from last year but have since improved and are down about 14 percent this month. Meanwhile, arrivals this year from U.S. mainland cities are up over last year.

"I'm confident we can come up with a permanent replacement in a short time," Guerrero said.

The bureau's board has named an executive search committee, along with a management review committee. No other management changes are planned for now, Guerrero said.

Guerrero said the executive committee would continue to evaluate all findings raised by the legislative auditor's report and that the bureau will continue to cooperate with any other requests for information from government agencies.


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