International Women’s Day: Interview with Peggy Murphy, USTOA

Peggy Murphy and Darley Newman in Washington Square Park in NYC.

Happy International Women’s Day! We love amazing, inspiring women, so to celebrate, we’re honoring some of our favorite fellow female entrepreneurs with Q&As. You’ll feel empowered after hearing the incredible life paths of the women we had the pleasure of interviewing. In our opinion, every day is International Women’s Day.

Meet Peggy Murphy! She is the Executive Vice President of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA). She works alongside Terry Dale, USTOA President and CEO, in their joint effort to expand the association through effective strategy. Her impressive resume includes over 20 years of hospitality and tourism experience from receiving her B.A. in Sports Administration at St. Thomas University in Miami to working at the United States Tennis Association (USTA), The Garden City Hotel, and Discover Long Island (formerly known as The Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau & Sports Commission).

Peggy currently resides in Garden City, NY. Her hobbies include golf, tennis, photography, and traveling. She is a member of both the 41-74 Club of New York and Meeting Professionals International Greater New York (MPIGNY). We got to catch up with this distinguished woman over coffee in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park.

Darley Newman: You’re currently the Executive Vice President of the United States Tour Operator Association. How did you begin working in this position and what is your role there?

Peggy Murphy: I started at USTOA as executive assistant to the president at that time, Bob Whitley, on Halloween, 2005! Which actually turned out to be a pretty auspicious day. We’ve always been a small staff, so my role expanded well beyond executive assistant to include office operations, liaison to the membership and Board of Directors, website and related digital oversight, and I was involved in organizing the Annual Conference and Marketplace for our members.

In 2009, I took on more responsibility with planning and organizing the Annual Conference and was promoted to director of operations shortly afterwards, in 2010. When Terry Dale came on board as president in 2011, I was promoted to Vice President, and then Executive Vice President in 2015…where I am very happy.

My role has evolved since Terry came on board as I took on more strategic projects while also working to enhance the Annual Conference. Projects that I really love are event planning, as with our annual congressional congress and Digital Marketing Academy, overall USTOA website and digital development, and working on members’ sponsorship programs.

Really, any projects that allow me to have more time working directly with our members are really satisfying.

Darley: What was your first job in travel? What was your biggest challenge?

Peggy: After college, where I majored in sports administration, I worked at the US Tennis Association (my first association!). After 5 years, I took four months off to travel around the country. I fell in love with Colorado and moved out there for a few years, working in different hospitality fields which I fell in love with. I then returned to New York to actually start my career in the travel industry.

I spent 5 years at the Garden City Hotel working my way up from behind the front desk, to convention services and then sales. I then held a sales manager position for the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, when I realized that I really wasn’t suited for front-line sales but really loved working directly with people and event organization.

This really crystalized for me when 9/11 happened and it was literally all-hands-on-deck to reassure guests, find accommodations, reschedule meetings, diffuse tensions, hold hands, and do pretty much whatever a guest requested.

I learned so much about what it means to work in crisis mode, and I realized later that I honed some pretty solid skills that have held me in good stead ever since. These include team work, patience, listening to people, the need to be proactive to try to anticipate a need, question or problem, and empathy, maybe most importantly.

Darley: How do you see the representation of women within the travel industry? Have you noticed any changes to this over the years?

Peggy: There absolutely is major positive change in the travel industry…although, the travel industry might be a little ahead of other industries. There are more women at C-suite levels running companies today and so many more opportunities.

Even in our association, we’ve witnessed more and more women at these senior levels, even among the international travel and tourism companies in emerging destinations. Case in point, USTOA has enjoyed the leadership of two successive women as chairman in the past four years, and currently there are three women on the board of directors.

Darley: What specific challenges have you encountered throughout your career?

Peggy: Besides commuting every day on the Long Island Railroad? Joking aside, I think I’m fortunate because it feels like sometimes my biggest challenges are these kind of small annoyances…the AV doesn’t work at a meeting, the speaker’s flight is delayed, smaller challenges that happen in spite of flawless planning. Since I joined USTOA in 2005, I’ve been fortunate to work in an organization that values and recognizes people and staff for their contributions. This is true not only within the organization but the entire membership.

Darley: Do you have any advice for women looking to start careers in the travel industry?

Peggy: JUST DO IT! There are so many entry points and opportunities to learn in this industry…hospitality, hotels, tourism, meetings, tour operators, cruises, travel technology, travel marketing, promotion and sales, and many others.  I spent more than a few years on the sales and customer service side of the business before I realized that I really enjoyed and was more suited to operations. But those sales skills have helped in so many ways dealing with our members and partners.

The long hours and working weekends take getting used to, but becoming a global citizen can be rewarding and the perks are pretty amazing.  I’ve traveled the world, met fascinating people, witnessed how people actually live, tasted amazing foods and so much more. In fact, I’m about to leave for Ethiopia for the USTOA out of country board meeting and then going on a safari in Tanzania!  It’s no wonder my friends and family want my job! Peggy basking in her glory! Washington Square Park, NY, 2019.

Make sure to check out all of our International Women’s Day Q&As on this site, including an Interview with Victoria James, Beverage Director & Partner of Cote NYC Interview with Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Co-Owner & Co-President of Valerie Wilson Travel.