Durst to head (former) Hospitality Association

This just in from the association formerly known as Hospitality:

Hospitality Association gets new leader and name

Columbia, S. C.—The South Carolina Hospitality Association today announced that John Durst, former director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, is the new President and CEO of the organization, whose membership is comprised of restaurant and hotel owners and operators.
The association, founded in 1993, also announced that it has changed its name to the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Durst, who served as the state’s top tourism official in Gov. Jim Hodges’ administration, took over as head of the state’s most prominent tourism trade group today. His background is in communications and marketing, most recently running the South Carolina office for Carolina Public Relations and Marketing based in Charlotte.
“We were flooded with interest in this position for one of the highest-profile associations in the state,” said Rick Erwin, a Greenville restaurant owner and immediate past association chairman. “But the executive committee and our board quickly came to the conclusion that John’s management skills, coupled with his marketing background, reputation, credibility and passion for our industry, were exactly what we need to position us for the future.”
Among his many awards was the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau Golden Pineapple Award for his role in leading the rebound of tourism in South Carolina after 9/11. “We vividly recall how John used his position at PRT to promote our state in a time when people were afraid to travel. We are fortunate to have him as the full-time face of our organization,” Erwin said.
“I am deeply honored and tremendously excited to have been selected to serve in this position,” Durst said. “We will help our members realize a great return on their investment in our Association, increase our membership base, and strengthen our strategic partnerships while becoming an even stronger voice and advocate for our state’s number one industry, tourism.”
With Durst as its new leader, the executive committee and governing board decided to change the name of the association to more accurately reflect its membership, as well as to signal a new chapter in the life of the largest tourism-related entity in the state.“We have a distinguished past, but this last year was filled with tragedy,” said David McMillan of Myrtle Beach, the new board chairman. “Hard lessons have been learned. New policies have been put in place to make sure it never happens again. And today, the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association is looking toward the future in which we will serve our membership and advocate for this state’s largest economic engine more effectively than ever.”
In February, it was discovered that a trusted bookkeeper had embezzled nearly $500,000 from the organization. Tom Sponseller, the President and CEO, committed suicide.
Authorities concluded he was not associated with the crime in any way. The bookkeeper has been sentenced to prison.
Rick Erwin, who guided the association as chairman during the past year and took over as temporary President, outlined financial accountability standards that have been taken in the wake of the embezzlement:
• The association has retained the Hobbs Group (accounting firm) to reconcile and prepare quarterly reports for the board of directors.
• New bylaws require the Finance Committee to review and approve financials before they go to the board.
• A separate audit committee will conduct a comprehensive annual audit of the books.
• Policies are in place to control incoming and outgoing funds to include check logs, separate check writers, duel check signers and bank account and statement controls.
• Wells Fargo Bank’s fraud department will monitor all of the association’s account for unusual activity.
Also attending the news conference to express support for Mr. Durst and the association were Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, PRT Director Duane Parrish and South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Otis Rawl.

John (brother of sometime commenter Walter), a former president of my Rotary Club, is a good choice, just the sort of guy to settle things down after the roller-coaster ride this industry association has been on, including the suicide of his predecessor and a major misappropriation of funds by another staffer.

I wish him the best.

7 thoughts on “Durst to head (former) Hospitality Association

  1. Steven Davis II

    What does this mean for the average SC citizen? Not a damned thing, just another appointed position for someone who thinks they have a little power.

  2. Silence

    I guess I’m unclear on what the hospitality association actually does, are they basically a lobbying group? How big is their budget that they didn’t miss a cool half-mil? What are they spending all that scratch on?

  3. Brad

    Silence, I tend to think of it as a lobbying organization, because that’s the way I tend to engage most organizations — through their advocacy of this or that issue.

    I remember hearing Tom Sponseller give a presentation (it was over at the convention center; I forget what sort of meeting it was) on the group’s legislative priorities. Here’s a link to that.

  4. Brad

    And I don’t know how big their budget is, but the missing money was obviously a HUGE deal to the organization, considering the way Tom Sponseller reacted when he learned of it. Perhaps he, too, thought he should have caught it earlier.

  5. Silence

    Well, yes, that’s a good point. I just couldn’t imagine that the quantity of funds missing could get that large before somebody missed it, unless their budget was really massive.

  6. obiewankenobie

    From the Feb. 28 post:

    Mark Stewart says: February 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    “What would cause someone to lock a suicide note (and the gun’s packaging) in one’s desk door and then lock oneself in a subterreanean warren of utility closets? Shame would be the first irrationality to come to mind for me. Senseless agony for the family left behind.”


    Maybe he knew too much and someone threatened to harm his family, but would spare them if he did as instructed, even as to where to comply. Maybe the suicide note was coached and the gun was in his desk for quite some time as a warning he would see every day, with increasing pressure?

    Tragic and still a very unsettled case IMO.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    John Durst is an excellent choice to restore credibility to this beleaguered, but important industry spokes-group. A gentleman with deeply held principles!


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