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Mice Net : June 2009
news fraud costs tourism whitsundays counts tourism WhitsundAys hAs emerged stronger than ever following a senior staff member allegedly stealing $350,000. carefully orchestrated strategy involving falsifying bank statements and unauthorised internet banking transfers. But at the time of going to press the woman had not appeared in court where it was expected she would plead guilty to the charges. Mr O’Reilly, who became CEO two years ago this month, said financial discrepancies were first discovered in an audit last September. “She was using the internet to transfer money and a company credit card to gamble on the internet,” he said. The extent of the fraud took months to determine such was the high level of the scam, and Mr O’Reilly admits the organisation was “teetering on the edge of insolvency”. But since then Tourism Whitsundays has undertaken a thorough examination of its operations. Part of the problem, Mr O’Reilly says, was where operationally all cheque signings required two signatures, internet banking transactions did not. “A huge amount of trust was placed in the person we had in that role. “We quickly went right through our procedures and how we do things internally. This is one of those things that you don’t always have the time to do but as we have learned, it is so important. The whole episode shows that you have to be across all policies and procedures.” He believes the organisation’s policies and procedures weren’t keeping pace with the pace of technology and the most up-to-date methods of conducting business. “Internet banking came and became the norm and yet our policies and procedures weren’t keeping pace.” Investigation of the extent of the fraud has cost Tourism Whitsundays $133,500, but as Mr O’Reilly explains, all of this plus the first $100,000 of the lost money was covered by insurance. Still, it left a gaping hole in the body’s operating budget. C EO Peter O’Reilly was eagerly awaiting the appearance and conviction in Bowen District Court of the disgraced financial controller who allegedly stole the money through a Through it all, Tourism Whitsundays has been upfront with members about what occurred. “We were quite transparent about the whole thing. We had to make some very tough decisions, and consequently we have a much leaner organisation. We’ve probably made cuts in the hundreds of thousands as a direct result.” Going through everything with a fine tooth comb has resulted in Tourism Whitsundays making big savings in some areas, none more so than in the cost of landlines and mobile phones, with Mr O’Reilly saying there have been savings in this area alone of between $600 to $700 per month. And perhaps most surprisingly, membership in the organisation has grown, particularly in the leisure market segment. “The practices we now have in place will result in savings long-term which means we’re going to have a far greater ability to provide value for money to our members. I guess it takes a crisis to really sharpen your focus.” In terms of general business in the Whitsundays, Mr O’Reilly says the domestic leisure market is a bit patchy but not particularly bad. “It’s holding up and certainly it’s not the wrist slashing times that some people are talking about. The youth adventure sector is quite buoyant. In the business events sector there is no doubt the enquiry rate is down, but the quality is there. People don’t have the time for window shopping – if they’re interested they’re coming to us. “There’s some encouraging signs for us. We’re a very attractive destination and we’re picking up some of those events that may have gone overseas and which are now seen as not the thing to do – a Fiji or Thailand excursion for example. There’s no doubt the leads we are getting are primarily Queensland-based but certainly it’s not the end of the world at this point in time.” Stay tuned for details on the result of the court case in the next edition of mice.net magazine or in the mice.net e-newsletter. share, impress & learn in luxury... multi award winning bellachara only 2 hours South of Sydney •conference & event facilities for 8-180 people •luxurious accommodation •restaurant & wine lounge • day spa •2 pools •tennis court created to offer guests a personal experience... bellachara.com.au 02 4234 1359 1 fern st gerringong mice.net 7