Chicago’s First Lady and Mercury Skyline Cruiseline
Holly Agra, president of Chicago’s First Lady and Mercury, Chicago’s Skyline Cruiseline, is deeply committed to promoting Chicago as an outstanding travel destination. Managing a fleet of seven U.S. Coast Guard Passenger Vessels and a seasonal team of 120 employees, Holly and her husband, Captain Bob Agra, continue an 82-year family tradition of showcasing Chicago’s skyline to visitors and residents from their home port on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is proud to be a City of Chicago certified Woman Owned Enterprise (WBE). Holly forged a long-term exclusive partnership with the Chicago Architecture Foundation in 1993 to showcase Chicago’s world-famous architecture through 90-minute docent-led architecture river cruises. Now in the 24th season, the partnership has served over 3 million global visitors. Hosting visiting journalists from around the world, the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise has received accolades in print and broadcast publications, including the best place to go to see Chicago by The Huffington Post 2016, successfully creating a lure for business and leisure travel to Chicago. In 2015, TripAdvisor named the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises as one of the Top 10 Tours in the country.
In 1991, Holly carved a significant niche in Chicago’s growing tour and private party cruise market by introducing Mercury’s $1.2 million vessel, Chicago’s First Lady, a custom built 225 passenger luxury vessel designed in the spirit of the former Presidential yacht Sequoia. Corporate parties, weddings, conventions, civic and special events have s have celebrated aboard the company’s Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruises for the past 24 years. In 1999, the Agras commissioned the $1 million Chicago’s Little Lady, a smaller version designed to also serve the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Tours and later introduced Chicago’s Fair Lady and twin vessels Chicago’s Leading Lady and Chicago’s Classic Lady, These custom-designed and built passenger vessels were built exclusively in United States shipyards by American craftsmen and are always crewed by U.S. citizens.
Holly is equally active in her civic commitments. She is currently a member of the Chicago Economic Club and serves by mayoral appointment on the Board of Directors and Finance Committee for Choose Chicago. Holly recently completed a four-year term as a member of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Travel Association and a six-year term on the U.S. Department of Commerce Travel and Tourism Advisory Board appointed by Secretary Pritzker. Previously, she served as Chairman of the Board of the Illinois Tourism Alliance from 2007 to 2009 and of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association from 1999 to 2001. She also served as a member of Illinois Governor Quinn’s Export Advisory Board. . Holly’s additional appointments include the 1995 President’s White House Conference on Travel and Tourism, Chicago’s Sister Cities Paris Committee and the Chicago Host Committee for the International IPW Convention.
Nationally, Holly is an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, American Bus Association, International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions, Meeting Planners International and the Passenger Vessel Association of which she was Chairman of the Board in 1990. During Holly’s term on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, she served as Vice Chair of the Visa subcommittee and proudly worked to expand the Visa Waiver program as well as helped to encourage the FAA to expedite the roll-out of its ‘Next-Gen’ air traffic control system to all U.S. gateway airports. Working closely with the City of Chicago’s Office of Protocol, Holly has served as an unofficial “Ambassador of Goodwill” through the many events she has hosted aboard Chicago’s First Lady. These include visiting mayoral delegations from Durban, South Africa; Sydney; and Mexico City as well as the Presidents of Lithuania, Ireland and Croatia.
Chicago’s First Lady was one of the key tour activities for the Democratic Senate during the 1996 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the City of Chicago hosted the Washington diplomatic corps for a “field trip” across America. Holly worked with local tourism professionals to showcase Chicago’s lakefront skyline aboard Chicago’s First Lady during a meeting of NATO held in Chicago. While attending this historic meeting, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany hosted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey of Spain aboard Chicago’s First Lady with world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn serving as their tour guide. Holly traveled on two occasions with former Mayor Daley’s City of Chicago delegation to Paris, France for the official signing of cooperative agreements within the Sister Cities program. Holly actively promotes the U.S. Custom and Border Patrol’s Global Entry program through her board memberships and corporate e-newsletter. She has been a member of Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check since 2011. Holly and her husband/business partner, Captain Bob Agra, reside in Chicago and were thrilled to have their oldest son, Bob III, vice president, join the family business in 2011 as a fourth-generation owner-operator. Their daughter-in-law Clare Agra is a client service manager, and their younger son Tim Agra J.D.consults with the family business within the human resource and maritime departments. The Agras are members of the International Family Business Network and the World Travel and Tourism Council.