With the death of Bob Whitley, a man whose name had become synonymous with the U.S. Tour Operators Association during his 32 years as president of the organization, the industry is left to reflect on what the USTOA stands for and where it goes from here.
Whitley will be remembered "first of all, for making USTOA a premier force in this industry," said John Stachnik, president of Mayflower Tours and the chairman and acting head of the USTOA. "Government bodies will come to us and get opinions, and we give opinions to government bodies. We have remarkable credibility for representing this industry."
Beyond Whitley's legacy, the USTOA is perhaps best known for the caliber and clout of its membership, which includes some of the largest and most well respected tour operators in the country.
That is due in part to the reputation that the USTOA has built over the years, and in part to some of the strict requirements it takes to be a member, including providing numerous references, meeting a certain minimum number of tour passengers and/or dollar volume, having been in business at least three years and carrying a minimum of $1 million in professional liability insurance.
All members must also participate in USTOA's $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program, a bond program that Whitley talked about and dealt with a fair amount, especially during trying economic times.
Additionally, Whitley had been involved in every aspect of USTOA, from lobbying to open up travel to Cuba to participating in TV and radio spots to promote the packaged travel industry.
At the memorial service for Whitley, operators spoke of the big shoes that a new USTOA president will have to fill. When one person leads an organization for so long in a very particular direction, a new leader could mean a continuation of that legacy. Or it could mean a complete rethinking of where the packaged travel industry is heading and how the USTOA can help take it there.
Times are changing, and while Whitley brought tour operators into the 21st century through 9/11 and the recent recession, through increasing competition from OTAs and the cruise lines, many challenges lie ahead.