Uf Tukel and Don Walker co-founded WMPH Vacations on May 2, 2004 in Delray Beach, Florida. Including themselves, they were just five employees who shared one objective: open a travel agency that Makes People Happy. Today, WMPH Vacations is an award-winning, multi-branded travel company with over 120 employees. Here's how it all started . . .
Back in December 1990, Uf Tukel's wife Sandy dragged him, kicking and screaming, on a cruise for his honeymoon. He ended up loving the cruise so much, he quit his job selling business telephone equipment and co-founded Cruise Outlet of the Carolinas in Charlotte, North Carolina. Cruise Outlet grew modestly for its first few years until Tukel logged on to America Online for the first time in August 1994. With AOL's newfound online community, Uf quickly saw the potential to reach cruise passengers on the Internet. In 1995, he launched CruiseOutlet.com, one of the Internet's first and largest cruise websites. When he and his business partner sold the business to Travel Services International (TSI) in August 1998, Uf and his family moved to Delray Beach, Florida to become Travel Services International's new Vice President of Online Marketing.
While Tukel was getting started in the cruise industry, WMPH Co-founder Don Walker was busy working his way up the executive ranks of Alamo Rental Car. Don began his career washing cars for Alamo while he was a student at the University of Colorado in Denver. His hard work ethic and amiable personality landed him a position at the rental car counter, where he quickly became one of Alamo's top reservations agents in the country. When he graduated, Don joined the management training program and eventually became a Regional Vice President. After 14 years, Don left Alamo to become Vice President for tech startup Orbit Network and Auto Europe. When Travel Services International acquired Auto Europe, Don and his family moved to Delray Beach, Florida to become TSI's Vice President of Traditional Marketing.
Uf and Don became great friends and colleagues at TSI. Together, for almost five years, they worked beside some of the brightest minds in the cruise industry and managed the marketing efforts for some of the most well-known cruise brands, including Cruises.com, 1-800-Cruises, Cruises Only, Gold Coast Cruises, Cruise One, Cruises Inc, and Cruise Masters.
In 2003, when a large travel retailer, National Leisure Group, in Woburn, Massachusetts acquired the cruise division of Travel Services International, Uf and Don agreed to stay long enough to help transition their marketing departments to the new company.
We Make People Happy!
Uf always knew that he would start his own cruise agency again. He loved the business and wanted to stick with it. When NLG acquired TSI, he got his chance. With a bit of arm-twisting, Don agreed to join him.
On the first day of their partnership, the two agonized over names for the new company. Every travel name they considered was already taken, trademarked, or the web address was not available. Frustrated, Don finally looked at Uf and said, "Uf. What is it we do?" Uf simply replied, "We Make People Happy." Both looked at each other with eyebrows raised and in unison said, "We Make People Happy!" Uf quickly searched the availability of the business name and website URL's, and -voila- WMPH Vacations was born.
The name of the company is cute and can bring a smile to your face, but it is a philosophy we at WMPH Vacations take very seriously. 'We Make People Happy' is engrained in our culture. It is what we all strive to do every single day. It is so important, in fact, we named our company after it.
Now. Make which people happy? We want to make all people happy...
And it starts with our employees: to make people happy, you need happy people. They want a fun place to work, great people to work beside, good benefits, training programs, technology and travel perks. If they are happy, our clients will be happy.
We also want to make our clients happy with great advice, great vacations, and great prices. They want accurate information with a smile, quickly and confidently, and in a way that's convenient for them, whether that is electronically or by phone. If a client doesn't buy from us, there must be something we did that didn't make them happy.
We are "We Make People Happy" not "We Make Only Rich People Happy". Whether our clients desire a three night cruise to the Bahamas or a 100-night World Cruise, we want to equally exceed their expectations.
In short, if our happy employees put our happy clients on the right cruise and they come back happy, then that makes us happy. Happy clients mean repeat business and referrals to the cruise lines, and that certainly makes them happy, too.
With considerable experience in cruise and online marketing, WMPH Vacations made the conscious decision to actively acquire brands with cruise-related or destination-focused keywords, and then build websites that could be easily customized with a full range of private label solutions for partners who wished to provide cruise vacations for their guests.
Within three years, WMPH Vacations proudly launched CruiseCheap.com, AlaskaCruises.com, EuropeCruises.com and HawaiiCruiseOutlet.com, as well as two private label fulfillment relationships with CheapCaribbean.com and Destination Oceans. Today, WMPH Vacations' portfolio has successfully grown to include nine company-owned brands and four private label partnerships
There's an App for That!
In May 2007, WMPH Vacations acquired iCruise.com, a well-known, online cruise vacation brand that never fully recovered after the internet bubble popped in the early 2000s. Apart from the construction of a new website for iCruise, WMPH Vacations was unsure how to grow the business and brand awareness until June 29, 2007: the launch of the first generation iPhone.
From then on, Apple commercials ran virtually 24 hours a day. Everyone was talking about the iPhone and iTunes and "apps", an application and piece of software designed for a particular purpose that users could download onto their mobile device. Such a multitude of apps were being programmed that a popular saying became, "There's an App for that." WMPH Co-founder Uf Tukel says, "I remember watching every Apple commercial just waiting for a cruise-related app to air. It never did. All I could think about was 'iCruise on the iPhone'," recalls Tukel. "So I went out, and purchased an iPhone."
Don Walker laughs, "Uf came to me saying he didn't think an iPhone app would generate any business, but he thought it sounded cool. And, I gotta admit, 'iCruise on the iPhone' did have a nice ring to it."
The rest is history. After a lot of hard work and dedication, the Cruise Finder App by iCruise.com became an instant hit. Today, the comprehensive cruise-planning app has over 1 million free downloads on iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle, and 50% of all WMPH Vacations cruise leads are generated through mobile devices.
Cruise Finder received the Travel Weekly Magellan Award for Best Cruise App, was named Best Cruise App by the Los Angeles Times, and Best Cruise App by Travel + Leisure Magazine. Cruise Finder by iCruise.com is acknowledged for its simple interface that allows users to quickly browse real-time pricing and information on 32 cruise lines, 310 cruise ships, and 25,000 worldwide itineraries through multiple, easy-to-use search options and calendars. They can view high resolution cabin photos and descriptions, as well as deck plans. Click here for more information and to download our free Cruise Finder mobile app.
Would you like to make that a Combo?
The cruise industry was not immune to the economic downturn of 2008. Between the mortgage and banking crisis, unemployment and the Presidential Election that year, the demand for leisure travel in general, and cruise vacations in particular, was extremely low. For those that could afford to travel, they were able to take advantage of some of the best cruise rates in recent years.
Due to these record low rates, cruise lines were open to creative marketing ideas that could help them fill ships without further price erosion. WMPH Vacations introduced "Cruise Combos" as a solution to their problem. Cruise Combos combine exclusively negotiated cruise rates with exclusively negotiated hotel rates to offer custom-built packages that bundle a cruise + hotel at prices that are lower than booking each component separately. WMPH Vacations clients are happy because they get a great deal and can enhance their overall vacation experience. Our Cruise Line and Hotel Partners are happy because they can sell their quality products without feeling the pressure to advertise huge price discounts.
"Cruise Combos" cruise and hotel packages are extremely popular to this day and consistently receive high ratings and praise for the tremendous value they offer to our guests and travel suppliers. WMPH Vacations features multiple packages in Hawaii, Europe, Alaska and the Caribbean and will continue to expand the program to more destinations and cruise lines.
Cruise Industry Hall of Fame
On April 5, 2014 almost 10 years after starting the company, WMPH Vacations was inducted into the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) Cruise Industry Hall of Fame as 'Outstanding Cruise Retailer.' At a gala Hall of Fame Dinner attended by over 1,500 travel professionals, Uf and Don accepted the CLIA award on behalf of the 120 'We Make People Happy Makers' (aka employees) of WMPH.
The CLIA Hall of Fame honors those individuals, past and present, whose efforts and accomplishments represent a significant contribution to, and a positive impact on, the cruise industry. Honorees are selected based on open nominations from CLIA's membership, followed by a review by the CLIA Trade Relations Committee.
"During this very special 10th Anniversary of cruise3sixty and as we look to an exciting next decade of growth, it is particularly noteworthy that this year's honorees have all played such significant roles in building and shaping the industry," said CLIA President & CEO Christine Duffy. "And, they have all been among CLIA's strongest supporters for many years," she added.
WMPH Vacations is a proud member of the Signature Travel Network (STN). It is a network of 6,000 travel agents who diligently serve the unique needs of discerning travelers and in turn generate sales in excess of $5 billion annually. We leverage this impressive buying power to deliver the best value to our clients. WMPH Vacations Co-Founder Don Walker sits on the Board of the Directors and WMPH Vacations is consistently recognized as one of the top 20 agencies in the Signature Network.
WMPH Vacation's partnership with STN introduced the team to Michelle Morgan, President and CEO of Signature Travel Network until she passed away from cancer in 2013. Michelle was admired throughout the industry not only for her remarkable accomplishments professionally, but for the strength, courage and optimism she radiated even when faced with adversity and debilitating disease in her personal life. To this day, she is a true inspiration to many at WMPH Vacations and the travel agency community as a whole. So much so, in fact, that Michelle Morgan was the first travel industry executive to be named godmother of a Celebrity Cruises ship, the Celebrity Silhouette.
Michelle's motto was always, "Onward." At WMPH Vacations, we've adopted "Onward" as our corporate charge to continue moving forward and looking for innovative ways to make our employees, our clients and our suppliers happy. We aim to fulfill this promise daily by delivering the highest level of customer service, cheerfully, as well as cutting-edge cruise travel technology and value-packed vacation options. In the future, our sights are set on expanding our product portfolio to include an even wider range of travel services such as land-based resort vacations, escorted tours, hotels, rental cars and packages.
The travel industry is constantly changing and evolving. The key is adapting. At WMPH Vacations we are committed to "Onward" and the never-ending innovation and expansion required in order to provide the most comprehensive travel products possible for our clients and partners.
So the only question remaining is, "How Can We Make You Happy?"