Travel agency owner Ted Friedli believes the work of his nonprofit organization Kick Cancer Overboard can be “life-changing in a small way.”
Friedli, whose agency is Excel Travel in Long Branch, N.J., created Kick Cancer Overboard (KCO) two years ago to award free cruises to cancer patients and their friends and families. The cruises give those affected by cancer a break from the disease and a way to “celebrate life,” Friedli said.
To illustrate the impact a KCO cruise can have, Friedli recalled attending the wake of a cruise recipient and seeing photos on display of the deceased and his wife enjoying their KCO cruise. The cruise had created a last joyous memory that was cherished by the couple.
Friedli and his wife Joanna founded Excel Travel 18 years ago. The full-service Ensemble agency sells primarily leisure travel. The Friedlis have long been active in community affairs.
Giving back has business benefits
Friedli acknowledged that his involvement with Kick Cancer Overboard may net his agency incremental business. “It shows me as a person who believes in giving back, and when that’s mentioned in the paper, it’s advertising that money can’t buy.”
But his primary motivation is to give back, he said.
Travel Market Report asked Friedli to discuss the inspiration and goals for Kick Cancer Overboard and his views on community service.
How does the program work?
Friedli: Kick Cancer Overboard gives away free cruises to those affected by cancer; that could be someone fighting cancer or a cancer survivor, their family, friends or caregivers. It sponsors an annual group cruise for them, along with paying passengers who include friends, people who believe in the cause or simply those who want to take advantage of a good group rate.
For the first two years — and we’ll stay with this for next year — it was a five-day Royal Caribbean cruise to Bermuda in late May. We want to keep it simple and fairly inexpensive because the lower the price, the more free cruises we can award. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Excel Travel will pay 5% commission to agents who book clients into the May 2013 KCO cruise.)
How do you decide who gets a free cruise?
Friedli: People who’d like to be considered for a cruise can go to our website, kickcanceroverboard.com, and click on an icon to email us their story.
Those emails, with the names removed, are sent to our five-person committee, which uses 10 criteria to select recipients. We think that if five people agree, without knowing the candidate’s identity, that’s as fair as possible.
Local businesses or clubs can also sponsor someone. In that case, it’s up to them to pick the person and to raise the money for the cruise. A local health foods store, for example, sponsored a contest in their newsletter to send a family. The business got great press and became the conduit for making it happen.
How many cruises have you given away so far?
Friedli: On our 2011 cruise, we sponsored 12 freebies and 71 paying cruisers. On this year’s cruise, it was 45 freebies and 53 paying cruises. So we’ve given away a total of 57 cruises in two years. Our goal is to fill the ship.
What was your inspiration for doing this?
Friedli: Friends (a couple) of 20 years who were both hit by cancer. The way they tackled this challenge head-on is an inspiration in how to deal with adversity.
We don’t have a choice on getting this disease, but we do have control over how we react. These people are unsung heroes. One of our goals is to find these role models who’ve turned a negative into a positive.
Why did you come up with a cancer aid organization based on free cruises?
Friedli: Rather than raising money for cancer research, we can provide a break to people that need it the most. We want people to have a positive attitude, and we’ll do everything we can to make that happen. The cruise is five days of fun and making new friends.
What is it about a cruise that benefits your recipients?
Friedli: We all know that vacations are healthy in general, and the statistics show that those who take regular vacations live longer, healthier lives. We also know laughter is good, and there’s plenty of that on ships. Many of our cruisers laugh more in five days than they have in the past five months.
Why do you sponsor a group cruise instead of sending people on individual cruises?
Friedli: Just this morning I received a request from a Stage 4 cancer patient who was given six months to live. We could just send him and his wife on a cruise next week and pay for it all, but our business model is for all of us to travel as a group.
It’s a chance for cruisers to get to know each other and develop relationships that last a lifetime. Many of our passengers are also first-time cruisers, and they appreciate having an experienced group leader.
We get group rates. The more paying passengers we book, the more people we can sponsor to cruise free.
It’s also better PR. When you have 100 people onboard wearing KCO T-shirts, it’s great exposure for the organization.
How do you raise money?
Friedli: I wanted to do things differently; there are so many ways we can be creative. We had a paintball outing to raise money. We’ve had fashion shows where all the models have been affected by cancer.
Recently we had over 50 volunteers show up at 4:30 a.m. to work at the annual New Jersey Marathon. [Excel Travel is the Marathon’s official travel agency.] In return, the marathon makes a donation to Kick Cancer Overboard. People could also sponsor one of the 12,000 or so runners by giving us a donation.