Press Releases

USTOA Announces 2023 Future Lights of the Tour Industry

Published Aug 1, 2023 12:00AM


 Two Industry Professionals Recognized for Contributions to Sustainability and DEI 

(August 1, 2023) - The United States Tour Operators Association announces the 2023 USTOA Future Lights of the Tour Industry recipients. Two up-and-coming leaders in the travel industry are being recognized for their efforts in sustainability and DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) initiatives within their companies.  

Launched during USTOA’s 50th anniversary in 2022, the USTOA Future Lights program invited tour operator members to nominate coworkers who have made a difference in helping their companies, and the communities they interact with, address issues critical for responsible travel.  

 The 2023 USTOA Future Lights are:  

  • Julie Higgins, Director Hotel Operations/Sustainability Officer, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises 
  • Mikey Sadowski, Vice President, Global Communications, Intrepid Travel  

“USTOA is overjoyed to recognize our 2023 Future Lights of the Tour Industry. Julie and Mikey exemplify are, indeed, bright lights who will help guide our industry to a more sustainable and equitable future,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA.  

He continued, “Last year, we launched this program as a way to personify our ‘50 years forward’ theme for USTOA. Seeing the strides that our tour operator members are taking towards responsible practices and action offers promise of a bright future in travel and tourism, and we are delighted and proud to shine a light on these stories.”  

Meet the USTOA Future Lights  

As Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ Sustainability Officer, as well as Director of Hotel Operators, Julie Higgins spearheads all sustainability initiatives at the brand, including Uniworld’s industry leading efforts to reduce food waste. In 2020, Julie was charged with identifying a suitable food waste management solution for ships, a task that included working with limited space onboard, weight restrictions, and more. With her leadership, Uniworld began implementing the selected system, Leanpath, in August 2021, making it the first river cruise company with a food waste management system on board. Julie personally visited each ship to ensure implementation and training. In 2023, 13 ships are to have the system implemented to decrease food waste. So far, Uniworld has reduced its food waste by 34% from its baseline and has saved more than 13,156 kg of food waste.  

As VP of Communications for Intrepid Travel, Mikey Sadowski is involved in shaping the brand’s global positioning, advocacy and communications as a leader in responsible travel. Sadowski worked alongside six external consultants to create Intrepid Travel’s Ethical Marketing Guidelines, a first for the travel industry, designed to hold the business accountable in becoming a more diverse and inclusive brand and company. The guidelines contain five commitments and 23 measurable actions, including that at least 50% of Intrepid’s content partners identify as BIPOC, 10% as plus-size, 10% as LGBTQIA+, and 10% as Indigenous. With his oversight, Intrepid has also created and launched a series of BIPOC content creator mentorship trips aimed at providing greater support to popular and emerging influencers, in partnership Nomadness Travel Tribe, one of the world's largest communities of BIPOC travelers in the world." 

Nominations were considered by a panel of USTOA Active and Associate Members that include Greg Takehara, CEO of Tourism Cares; Emma Cottis, General Manager Business Systems, Goway Travel; Derek Hydon, President and Founder and Sustainable Growth Champion, MaCher, a certified B Corporation; and Kelly P. Sahner, Chief Commercial Officer, Trip Mate, a Generali Company, marquee sponsor of the USTOA Future Lights of the Tour Industry.  

“Trip Mate is honored to support the USTOA Future Lights of the Tour Industry program,” said Kelly P. Sahner, Chief Commercial Officer of Trip Mate, a Generali Global Assistance company.   

She continued, "Promoting DEI and sustainability initiatives is of utmost importance to our company and the industry as a whole. We strongly believe in acknowledging and supporting individuals who are driving positive change. The Generali Group is deeply committed to these principles, exemplified by our ambitious objective to achieve Net-Zero status by 2050. As a responsible insurer/assistance company, we prioritize our role as an employer, citizen, and investor in fostering sustainability. We recognize our responsibility in each of these aspects and strive to uphold them diligently." 

“As an organization, we are proud to have such engaged members who advocate for a better future. We are grateful for the support, and especially for Trip Mate, a Generali Global Assistance company, for their continued contributions as the sponsor of the USTOA Future Lights of the Tour Industry program,” said Dale. 

The USTOA Future Lights will be welcomed and acknowledged during the USTOA Annual Conference and Marketplace in Los Angeles December 2-6, 2023.  

For more information on USTOA, visit   

About USTOA:   

Representing $16 billion in revenue, the member companies of U.S. Tour Operators Association provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow six million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value, and freedom to enjoy destinations and experiences across the entire globe. Each member company has met the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments up to $1 million if the company goes out of business.  As a voice for the tour operator industry for 50 years, USTOA also provides education and assistance for consumers and travel agents.  



Gina Dolecki/Alice Phillips  


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