CLIA Hall Of Fame Honourees Epitomize Cruise Retailing Success
Cruising is truly an interlocked industry. While it
always has been, the importance of that fact hasn't always been appreciated by
the cruise lines themselves.
Indeed, one of the biggest differences in today's cruise business compared to
is that, from the top down, more suppliers recognize the need for travel agents
to succeed when selling cruises.
Raising yields is not a stand-alone function of the
cruise brands. It takes 2 to tango, which brings us to this year's CLIA
Hall of Fame Retail award honourees: Mark and Mimi Comfort, for over 26 years
the owners of Cruise Holidays of Kansas City.
There are Mark and Mimis in every state across the U.S. and every province in
Canada. They are vacation sellers who care about the industry, their staff and
When visiting agencies over the years,
Cruise Week says they have been fortunate to see a lot of Mark and
Mimis. They say they are always instantly made to feel welcome and at home at
these locations and remember particularly feeling that way during their visit
to Cruise Holidays of Kansas City.
In the introductory speech at the Hall of Fame
ceremonies, Royal Caribbean's Vicki Freed made this observation: “Mark and Mimi
counted on their faith, their compassion and their dedication to build their
cruise business into one of the top agencies in the U.S. - all while
contributing to the lives of others far more than anyone could ask.
“Have you noticed that you never say Mark Comfort? Or Mimi Comfort?" asked
Freed. “It's always Mark and Mimi. No need for last names. It's their perfect
union of complementary skills that makes them an inseparable pair and has taken
them so far together.
“Their goal," Freed continued, “was never to be the largest agency, but to be a
model agency - role models in the industry of how everyone should be treated.
Sales is how you measure success in numbers, but you only get there if you take
care of each and every person along the way - your staff, your customers, your
Welcoming people is a factor in their success. “Their staff is very tenured and
their lives are all interwoven," says Freed. “They celebrate each marriage and
birth like family. It's this philosophy that has been at the heart of their
unwavering success." Their mission statement today is the same as when they opened shop: We create memories that last a
lifetime for our clients.
Freed concludes, “It applies not only to their clients but to everyone they
come across. Perhaps that's why Cruise Holidays of Kansas City has been the #1
U.S. store in the Cruise Holidays franchise for 23 years."
Mark Comfort has his own idea why: “The reality is we're persistent, aggressive
and consistent. We believe very passionately that we do business the right way."
Mark and Mimi Comfort have entered the CLIA Hall of
Fame the same year as Wayne and Judy Heller. The Hellers first made their mark
in the business by launching Cruises Only in the 1980s, which featured a
nationwide sales model with trained sales people particularly adept at closing
the sale and emphasizing price advantages.
CLIA honoured them specifically with the Cruise Sales Innovator Award. As
CLIA advisor Mark Conroy, former President of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, points
out, “The Hellers were one of the first (if not the first) people to set up a
structured training program for incoming cruise sellers and put them through a
whole learning process."
While that's quite common now, it hasn't always been. “They did a lot of
pioneering things like that," said Conroy. “For instance, early on they were
some of the first people who really came up with a structure combining salary
and bonuses. They thought up a lot of things like that."
That Wayne and Judy Heller enter the Hall of Fame at the same time as Mark and
Mimi Comfort symbolizes how there has always been considerable breadth on the
retail side. Mark and Mimi were fundamentally local sellers and their goal was
not to be the biggest.
“When we found out the honourees, and how polar opposite the business of Wayne
and Judy Heller and Mark and Mimi Comfort were, we thought 'Isn't that cool
that we could both be in the Hall of Fame?'" says Mark Comfort. “I think that's
the greatest thing in the world to show: there's a lot of different ways to do
business. But as long as we have the same end goal, and that's to sell cruise
vacations, we all win."
Different as they are, all 3 of this year's honorees, both on the retail side
and the supply side, had something very much in common: they were outspoken on
issues impacting the business. This year the Cruise Line Executive Award went
to Rod McLeod who is now retired from his lengthy career with Royal Caribbean,
Carnival Corp. and NCL. In terms of suppliers there have been few over the
years who speak with more honesty and insightfulness than McLeod does about
Comfort certainly hasn't been afraid to speak his mind either. “If you're
confident in yourself and your thoughts, and you are professional in how you
say what you want to say, whether it's controversial or not, then you have
every right to say it," he sums up.
He provided further advice: “Don't ever be intimidated about speaking the
truth. If these executives don't hear from people like you and me, how are they
going to know how we feel?"
According to Comfort, it's an obligation to speak up. “In our case, I believe
we owe it to ourselves and to those people who may be afraid to speak up for
whatever reason. Mind you, there's a lot of people who are complainers and
whiners that suppliers don't listen to anyway. So that's why I believe while it's important to say your piece, it's
important to be professional."
He also says that it's crucial to speak up because industry leaders can
live in a bubble. “Too many do not understand what we go through on a day to
day basis to sell their cruise line to our mutual customers. They can't because
most have never done it."
It's vital that they be reminded about the value of agents. Comfort recognizes
those lines that are valuing and supporting the travel agency distribution
system: “Where I think there's going to be a problem is for those lines that
think they can do it better by doing it direct. And some have already had
problems because of that."