By Mac Lacy
MARCO ISLAND, Fla. — John Stachnik won the Iron Man contest at the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) Annual Conference and Marketplace, Dec. 11-13 at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club and Spa in Marco Island, Fla.
However, he won’t be going to Hawaii or California this spring to compete in another Iron Man competition against the world’s best-conditioned athletes. This contest was a bit different.
“The first thing I do whenever I check into a hotel is iron my clothes,” new USTOA president Terry Dale told delegates at the opening luncheon. “I shared this with the board earlier this year, and then a few of them began admitting to me privately that they do the same thing. So, today we’re going to have an Iron Man contest to see just who is the best among us.”
The delegation watched in amusement as five contestants climbed the stage, were assigned ironing boards and began ironing identical shirts. Dale was one of them, but his chances were dashed by a mysteriously cold iron.
The shirts were whisked off and hung in the conference’s Cyber Cafe to be judged. And Stachnik, president and co-owner of Mayflower Tours and the outgoing USTOA chairman, pressed his way to victory.
Thus, 800 delegates from around the globe, including the heads of many of the world’s largest travel companies, were introduced to the Terry Dale style of leadership. Hired in January, the former CLIA chief executive was brought on to energize one of the travel industry’s most prestigious organizations.
For many in the industry, the results began to show here. From the looks of things, bold imagination will be a hallmark of this new era.
“Terry’s memory and creativity are unbelievable,” said Stachnik. “It was great when Bob [Whitley] was here, and it’s great now — but it’s different. Terry is astute at finding mutually beneficial opportunities, and USTOA is going to be the beneficiary of that.
“This is not an easy job. USTOA is an association of competitors, and it takes a strong CEO to effectively speak for all of them. Terry can do it.”
A feeling began to coalesce here that the next generation of thinkers is emerging for many of these USTOA active member companies, which includes some of the group travel industry’s oldest names. And Dale sees this emergence of new talent coming at the right time.
“You were there for our opening state of the industry panel discussion to kick off the conference,” he told me. “That was no coincidence. That was a collection of talent — all of them in their 40s or younger — that will help us to lead USTOA into the future.
“They’re the next group of great minds in this industry, and we need their vision for what we can become.”
A renewed emphasis on making the association’s associate members more involved is also in place, something Stachnik stressed as chairperson.
“We have a lot of very influential associates in USTOA, and we’ve put a new Allied and Associate Member Advisory Committee together that gives them a greater voice.
“And we’ve gotten our committees working much earlier this year. We’re off to a good start,” he said.