RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — Bob Whitley, longtime president of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), died May 13 following complications from abdominal surgery. He was 66.
Whitley, who headed USTOA for 32 years, had more than 40 years of experience in the tourism field, serving in the private and government sectors. Founded in 1972, the USTOA is a professional organization representing the tour operator industry with 47 corporate members representing 165 brands.
As an expert spokesman for the travel industry, Whitley appeared on numerous radio and television programs and was a featured speaker at tourism conferences worldwide, traveling to more than 100 countries as head of USTOA.
“Bob was an inveterate traveler who served as a goodwill ambassador throughout the world,” said John Stachnik, of Mayflower Tours, the association’s chairman. “He was the driving force behind USTOA’s success, and he will be sorely missed.”
“Bob was a best friend. He was a person filled with life and spread his friendship and humor to everyone he touched worldwide,” said Arthur Tauck, chairman of Tauck World Discovery, a USTOA member company. “We will sorely miss his presence and his penchant for connecting people from all over our business.”
Whitley was also a driving force in the creation of the Tourism Cares philanthropic organization, which seeks to preserve iconic tourism sites worldwide.
“Not only did Bob rally the members of USTOA around the need to protect and preserve the wonderful places around the world that need our care,” said Tourism Cares executive director Bruce Beckham, “but he was a person who walked the talk with his personal support and participation. He attended every Tourism Cares for America project, from the original at Ellis Island to the most recent in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.”
Hank Phillips, who worked closely with Whitley while serving as president of the National Tour Association, remembers a friend to whom people gravitated.
“Bob had charisma, charm and a wonderful wit,” said Phillips, now deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism. “He was bright and put his intellect to good use, but achieved even more with his style and relationship skills. He worked hard, but he also played hard. He was competitive but never allowed his competitiveness to get in the way of our personal relationship or an excellent working relationship we forged between our two associations.”
Whitley is survived by his wife of 44 years, Carol; and three children, Kelly Brock, Scott Whitley and Shaun Whitley; and five grandchildren.