Across the spectrum of the travel industry, few trade associations ever had the good fortune to have an executive of Bob Whitley's caliber and to benefit from his guidance for an extraordinary 32-year tenure. His death last week marks the end of an era, not just for the U.S. Tour Operators Association but for the industry as a whole.
We can think of few individuals in travel who became the authoritative voice and face of an industry segment as effectively as did Bob Whitley.
His accomplishments are all the more remarkable when you realize that he did it for 32 years of constant and accelerating change, for an industry segment and an association that became more diverse, more differentiated, more dispersed geographically than when he began.
But while the USTOA has lost a great leader, it has not lost its greatness.
The strength of this association has always resided in the aspirations of its membership. It was created in 1972 by a handful of leading California operators who felt their industry needed a stabilizing influence in the wake of some nasty strandings and operator failures that had shaken consumer and agent confidence in group travel.
They provided that stability.
From its earliest days the USTOA has stood for financial responsibility and integrity. Over the years it managed to become far more inclusive, with national and international influence, while never straying from what became its slogan and bedrock principle: Integrity in Tourism.
The members realized that principle in no small measure by entrusting their association to a remarkable individual. The result was the best kind of partnership, in which Bob Whitley and his members brought out the best in each other. That is a legacy to which we can all aspire.