Bob Whitley, longtime president of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), died May 13 following complications from abdominal surgery. He was 66.
Whitley’s distinguished career in the tourism field spanned more than 40 years, including both private sector and government positions. His association with USTOA dates back to 1978 when he was selected by the Board of Directors to head the national nonprofit organization. During his tenure at USTOA, the organization grew to become the leading association of its kind in the travel industry.
Whitley was the recipient of numerous marketing awards for travel promotion and served on the Board of Directors and advisory boards of many travel industry associations. For seven consecutive years he was recognized by a leading trade magazine as one of the travel industry’s 25 most influential executives, and was named in 1996, 1997 and 1999 as Person of the Year for Travel Industry Associations by Travel Agent.
In 2005, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Travel Weekly, and in 2008 the members of USTOA honored him for 30 years of outstanding service, leadership and dedication to the organization.
As an expert spokesperson for the travel industry, Whitley appeared on television and radio stations throughout the U.S. and the UK. During his tenure at USTOA, he traveled to more than 100 countries, and was a featured speaker at tourism conferences worldwide.
Before joining USTOA, Whitley held positions as director of the Florida Department of Tourism, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Tourism and director of the Virginia Beach Convention and Tourist Bureau.
“Bob was an inveterate traveler who served as a goodwill ambassador throughout the world. He was the driving force behind USTOA’s success, and he will be sorely missed,” said John Stachnik, USTOA chairman.
"Bob was a best friend. He was a person filled with life and spread his friendship and humor to everyone he touched worldwide. We will sorely miss his presence and his penchant for connecting people from all over our business," said Arthur Tauck, chairman of Tauck.
Whitley is survived by his wife of 44 years, Carol, and three children, Kelly Brock, Scott Whitley, and Shaun Whitley, and five grandchildren.
Memorial services will be announced at a later date. Contributions in Whitley’s name may be made to an association he helped found and was dear to his heart, Tourism Cares.
As the industry has lost a great leader, we invite our readers to share memories and thoughts on Bob Whitley.