A cruise travel professional in Delray Beach predicts smooth sailing ahead for the industry and his company in the coming year.
Uf Tukel, co-founder of We Make People Happy Vacations and iCruise.com, said his travel agency is growing as demand for cruises grows, too. Tukel co-founded the company in 2004 with Don Walker and five employees.
Today, WMPH Vacations is one of the largest Delray Beach employers with more than 120 people. Tukel said he’s eager to hire more people, too, especially in sales.
Demand for business is growing, thanks the dizzying array of cruise choices and the company’s extensive use of technology, including multiple websites and mobile apps.
WMPH helps customers find the cruise lines, destinations and activities that will best suit their needs. The company has 38 different cruise lines featuring almost 400 ships. WMPH stays on top of innovation and has devised a sophisticated deck plan for cruise ships, so people can pick their exact cabin.
Name: Uf Tukel
Hometown: Taylorsville, North Carolina. Currently live in Delray Beach
Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, BA
Family: My wife, Sandy, and I have two kids. Our son Guller is a junior at Florida State University and our daughter Sydney is a freshman at the University of Florida
About your company : WMPH Vacations and iCruise.com is an online travel company that specializes in cruise vacations. We are a top producer with all the major cruise lines and a member of the Cruise Industry Hall of Fame. We have about 120 employees and sell almost 40,000 cruises a year through our call center, multiple websites and mobile apps.
The company operates under a number of owned and partner brands including iCruise, CruiseCheap, AlaskaCruises.com, CruiseNow.com, and more. In 2009, WMPH Vacations launched the free and comprehensive cruise vacation-planning mobile app Cruise Finder.
First paying job and what you learned from it: I started learning the value of customer service selling Grit newspaper, bagging groceries and waiting tables. My first job out of college was selling communication systems for Atcom Business Telephones in Charlotte, N.C. David Finch, our vice president of sales, taught me that people buy from those they trust and like.
First break in the business: My wife dragged me on a cruise for our honeymoon. I absolutely didn’t want to go. But I loved it so much that I quit my job selling telephones and started a company selling cruises. However, my big break once I got into the business was logging on to AOL in 1994 and noticing there were no companies selling cruises online. So we built a website and became one of the Internet’s first cruise retailers.
How your business has changed: When I got into the cruise/travel business in 1992, travel agencies were brick and mortar storefront locations that got their business primarily from walk-in traffic, the yellow pages or newspapers. Technology has changed the way guests find and book their trips/travel and has changed how companies like ours communicate with our customers. Today almost 50 percent of our new customers find us on smart phones alone. That does not include desktop website traffic!
Best business book: “Good to Great.” I also love “Who Moved My Cheese,” a short, easy read but a simple reminder to be aware, avoid complacency and be prepared for change.
Best piece of business advice you ever received: If you want to be successful, do what successful people do.
What you tell young people about your business: Jokingly, I tell young people that we make people happy and that we make bucket list dreams come true. Then I explain that we are an online travel company that sells cruise vacations. Many young people aren’t aware of all employment opportunities in travel, so I go into a little detail about how the travel sector is the fourth largest employer in the world.
I tell them it’s a fun business that can give them the opportunity to travel and see the world.
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? We love living in Delray Beach. When we’re hosting guests, we become tour guides and proudly boast that Delray Beach was recently voted the Most Fun Small Town in America. With world-class restaurants, beaches and hotels stretching from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton, I think there should be continued growth in tourism and hospitality. Now add our universities, colleges, hospitals, year-round climate, and proximity to three international airports, and you can’t help but see economic development opportunities as well.
Outlook for 2017: I think we’re going to have a great year for the travel industry. Alaska cruises are up 15 percent. And having Cuba open up to more mass market cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian is definitely going to make it more affordable to cruise to Cuba. Additionally, past passengers of these cruise lines, especially those who live in Palm Beach County and South Florida will appreciate a new destination and alternative to the Bahamas.
Power lunch spot: City Oyster for lunch and 32 East for Dinner.
Where we’d find you when you’re not at the office? On the boat with my wife, having dinner on Atlantic Avenue or running miles somewhere on A1A.
Favorite smartphone app: Garmin Connect and the Cruise Finder App by iCruise, of course.
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Attitude, likeability and compassion. When you’re in the business of selling happiness, you need happy people who care about and can make other people happy! We can’t make people happy without them.