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Checking in with Bob Cline

Fast Facts about Bob Cline

Bob Cline is the Founder and President of U.S. Tours in Vienna, West Virginia.

U.S. Tours opened in 1996 when Bob Cline left the retail travel business where he worked and started out on his own as a wholesale tour operator. Today, the business has 20 employees, half of whom work remotely and are scattered across the continent. U.S. Tours sells customized and private label tours for various bus companies, bank clubs and other pre-formed travel groups.

Born: Williamstown, West Virginia

Education: “At the beach” 

Employment:  Four years bartending in private East Coast clubs, several years in restaurant management, and 20 years in charter bus and retail tour sales. Founded U.S. Tours in 1996.  

Family: Adult daughter and 6-year-old grandson; partner Carol Torricelli 

Hobbies: “I don’t have much time for hobbies as a small businessman.”

When Bob Cline decided college wasn’t his cup of tea in the late 1970s, he worked seasonally at private clubs along the Maryland and Florida coasts as what he describes as an “itinerant bartender.” Growing up in Williamstown, West Virginia, whose population was under 3,000, Cline was eager to escape small-town life. 

“It was dirt roads, bikes and BB guns, and I didn’t care much for it,” said Cline. “So I spent three years traveling up and down the beach, summer to winter, bartending in some very nice clubs.”

He later moved into working in restaurants and took a managerial position until he started a family, when he decided the long hours of restaurant management weren’t conducive to life as a parent. He answered a call from an employment company and got a job producing tours at a charter bus company, where he stayed for 20 years before starting his own business with a colleague. Though he was the first person they hired that wasn’t a bus driver, by the time he left the company, he oversaw five other people working in his department. When the company was acquired and he didn’t have any chemistry with the new owners, he set out on his own.

“I don’t know if I ever caught the travel bug, but I caught a job,” said Cline. “When my associate and I opened U.S. Tours in 1996, we operated retail and wholesale travel for the first couple of years; and as things grew, we hired a sales rep, we acquired an advertising agency, then, over the years, a travel agency and a couple of tour companies, a receptive company in Tennessee and an FIT ticket sales outlet. We’ve built up quite an organization with an awful lot of industry veterans working for us.”

U.S. Tours started selling wholesale travel packages across the country, and at the end of its first year, it had customers in four states. By the end of the second year, that number had increased to 10 — and it continued to grow. 

“We came out and opened a catalog and put it on the street, and within the month, we were in business,” Cline said.

Some of his staff have been working in the travel industry for more than 40 years, and none of them have been in it for fewer than six. 

“The biggest contributing factor to any growth is the people that you’re with, and I’ve always hired the best and most experienced people I could find,” Cline said.

Cline may claim he just runs a small business, but U.S. Tours’ award-winning track record reveals passion behind each trip. Its innovative approach to affinity travel has built a business of supplying travelers with once-in-a-lifetime experiences and has given them a decades-long track record of success.

Dreaming Big

U.S. Tours is known for its creative travel packages. What makes the company special is its attention to detail, little parts of the trip that tie a theme together. For example, when the staff found out it was possible to rent out Graceland, they developed an entire trip around the theme of Elvis’ popular classic “Blue Christmas.” Guests get to experience a private tour of the estate as it was when the Presley family lived there, along with a holiday dinner show and a tour of the high points of Memphis music history. But Cline doesn’t want to take all the credit.

“I don’t know how I come up with some of the ideas — we envision it, and we’ve got a good staff that works with us, so we try to look for different and unusual events in a place, and we’re able to put them together and give people unique experiences they can’t find anywhere else,” he said. “There will be a spark, and we will talk it out among the people in the office. We want to give people a peek into people’s lives or into events.”  

It all starts with someone dreaming up a trip idea and everyone pitching in to contribute elements that make the trip something special. Cline cites the Kentucky Derby tour, which frequently sells out, as an example. 

“We don’t just take you to the Derby,” he said. “We’ll add on a class on how to make a perfect mint julep, do a bourbon tasting, have a couple of simulcast races where guests can make bets with play money, take a riverboat tour and visit a horse farm before the event itself. We want to give you the feeling of the Derby.”

Spinning a Tale

Though Cline says it was simply chance — and needing a day job — that led him to work in the travel industry, he is a storyteller of sorts.

“I never had a dream of running a travel company or anything like that,” he said. “It was just circumstance, and the business growing just occurred along the way. But the feedback from our travelers is typically very good. My special events team knows exactly what to do. What our tours do is follow a theme and build a story.”

Tours start with the spark of one idea but are built to incorporate a whole slew of experiences, like the company’s popular Music of the Million Dollar Quartet tour. The trip hits both Memphis and Nashville and visits important landmarks that inspired the lives and music of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. 

Other tours the company has done include the Grandkids of Country Music, a sold-out tour that features the grandchildren of country’s leading stars in an intimate setting. Guests share not only music but also meals with the descendants of country’s most famous musicians.

“You get a peek into the lives of those folks,” said Cline. “Rather than learn about only famous places, we learn about where a song was written and all about the building. We will dine at restaurants that have a memorable atmosphere, where the staff is singing or you help somehow with the cooking. It’s an added bonus, what the Cajuns like to call the 13th doughnut.”

Destination Faves

1. Cruising “I enjoy cruising. There’s nothing like sunrise on the ocean, and any ocean will do.”

2. Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway — “On long weekends over two summers, Carol and I meandered the length of Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. We had no destination, no schedule; we let each moment lead us.”

3. Black Hills — “Most of my travel has been business related, attending hundreds of trade shows, but one very memorable moment was 12 years ago in the Black Hills, in the back of a Jeep, in a buffalo herd, when I met Carol.”