As the United Motorcoach Association marked its 50th anniversary at EXPO, attendees had a rare opportunity to hear from the man at the helm for the birth of the organization.
Wayne Smith, 91, who spoke during the second day of the conference in Orlando, Florida, shared how he was tapped in 1971 to lead the organization by a dozen small bus and motorcoach operators, who formed the United Bus Owners Association (UBOA).
They wanted an organization that would serve as an alternative of the large bus association, then known as the National Association of Motor Bus Operators (NAMBO), to represent the smaller coach owner/operator and serve as their voice in Washington, D.C., and to protect and promote their interests and welfare. Smith was recommended by then-U.S. Transportation Secretary John Volpe because of his experience as a trade association manager in the nation’s capital.
First EXPO in 1976
Despite the challenges of the decade — including an oil embargo that made gas scarce — UBOA held its first EXPO in 1976 in Nashville. In honor of the year, attendees paid $76, which then increased by $1 the following year. The pricing tied to the year became a tradition for many years.
The winter timing of the conference reflected the wishes of the operators, who wanted the three-to-five-day event held in January or February, when their business slowed down. Fortunately, there are many cities in warmer climates that were eager for the opportunity to host motorcoach operators, because of the key role they play in tourism.
“We were bringing in great speakers. The best part of the whole program was the exhibit floor. This gave us an opportunity to meet and spend time with the vendors, and see how they can help us and vice versa,” Smith said.
In the 1980s, deregulation spurred the industry’s growth, and UBOA grew along with it. The organization lobbied on behalf of Members on several legislative issues, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1986. Smith recalled how ADA supporters in wheelchairs protested at the organization’s EXPO in Dallas. He invited them to come and speak with Members about their concerns.
In the 1990s, Smith and the board took steps to prepare UMA for long-term success with the purchase of a condo office building in Alexandria, Virginia, which remains its headquarters. UBOA’s name was officially changed to the United Motorcoach Association in 1996 to more accurately reflect the industry it represented.
“I’m really happy we were able to accomplish what we did and help the organization with that beautiful headquarters in Virginia and a surplus of $2.5 million,” said Smith, noting the rainy-day fund made it possible for the organization to forgo member dues during the pandemic.
Sales on show floor
During this decade, Smith and the board of directors made a trip to Europe to inspect motorcoach factories. They also attended a “huge” European motorcoach show in Frankfort, Germany.
“It was a weeklong show where they had actual offices and they were making their sales. That opened our eyes,” said Smith, noting that when the UMA leaders returned to the United States, they negotiated with convention centers hosting the EXPO to allow sales on the floor.
Smith’s tenure lasted nearly 30 years. He stepped down in 1998 and was succeeded by Victor Parra who helmed the organization until his retirement in 2017. He was replaced by Stacy Tetschner, who left three years later to head the American Traffic Safety Services Association. Larry Killingsworth, a former MCI executive, replaced Tetschner in March 2020.
Smith’s early vision for UMA continues to be key to the organization’s continued success. UMA Members showed their appreciation for his decades of leadership, giving him a standing ovation at EXPO.