Although his first career as an Air Force pilot ended in 1974, Mel Mendelsohn has never forgotten his military roots, a foundation that serves him well as a travel agent specializing in cruises.
After two decades in the Air Force and another 21 years managing retail malls, Mendelsohn, 80, turned his attention from air and land to the sea to indulge his passion for sailing.
Before he became a travel agent with Cruise Planners 13 years ago, he had already been on 70 cruises. That number is now 170 and still counting.
In addition to cruise sales, Mendelsohn leads at least one – and sometimes two – transatlantic cruise groups a year. He emails his client base each year asking them where they’d like to go and on what ship and makes plans from there.
The groups range in size from 10 to 20; his most recent group had 26 members for a cruise aboard the Royal Princess in October.
“Although they’re my clients, they’ve become my friends more than my clients, “ he said. On some of his trips, people become such good friends they decide to travel together again.
“Two years ago we went on our first river cruise with 10 people. I’m doing another river cruise next April, and the same people are going. We’ve become a group, a group of friends,” he said.
Mendelsohn doesn’t specifically target veterans – almost all of his business is word of mouth – but about 40% of his clients are ex-military. And he’s able to help them get good deals, especially on Princess, a cruise line he often uses for his groups.
“What Princess does for the veterans is really great. If you were a veteran in the Canadian or U.S. military they’ll give you a shipboard credit depending on the length of the cruise.”
The cruise line gives shipboard credits to active duty personnel or veterans ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the length of the cruise, he explained. Once a Princess cruise is booked, the veterans or active duty personnel must submit a form with proof of service to receive the credit.
When Mendelsohn takes a cruise, he asks the cruise director in advance if he can hold one or more veterans meetings.
On his last cruise, which included nine days at sea, he held four meetings. Once onboard, the meetings are announced in the daily newsletter at dinner the night before the gathering or over the intercom.
In the meetings veterans get together and tell what branch of the military and when and where they served. It’s a chance for them to get together and talk about things they’ve held inside.
“WWII veterans are passing away at a rate of 1,000 a day and all these really great stories are going with them. Their children don’t know what they did, because they don’t want to talk about it to their families. But they will talk about it to other veterans,” Mendelsohn said.
“I don’t tell them I’m a travel agent, so I don’t necessarily get any new business from this, but I do have people ask me for my card. I’m doing the veterans meetings because I think veterans should get together and talk to each other.”
Quick to qualify
Mendelsohn also comes into contact with veterans because he has a house in a Melbourne, Fla., a military community for retired military officers. Even there, he doesn’t push his travel business, only telling other residents what he does when asked.
Once people do contact him, however, Mendelsohn is quick to qualify them.
“The first thing I ask them is if they’re a veteran and if they’re going on a cruise. If they are and are going on Princess, I send them a form so they can get the onboard credit.
“In some cases Royal Caribbean and Carnival offer discounts to military but only when the ships are not full, and not during Christmas or spring break,” he said.
Helping veterans get shipboard credits and bringing them together on board are just a couple of ways Mendelsohn repays those who have served their country.
And his dedication to veterans may be just one of the reasons his business has grown entirely through word of mouth.