THIS YEAR, family-owned travel agency Royal Travel & Tours will celebrate 50 years of business. Founded in 1972 by Larry and Kay Berke, the agency is now owned and run by their daughter Kendra Thornton, who took the reins in 2016 and relocated the business to Winnetka.
“It’s pretty rare to still be family-owned and operated at the size we are,” says Thornton. “We have 14 advisors on our team and have continued to be one of the top-selling leisure agencies in northern Illinois for decades. Our team has traveled collectively to nearly 150 countries and we bring that knowledge and experience back to our clients”
With half a century of experience, the Royal Travel team has unparalleled knowledge of—and access to—the finest travel experiences in the world.
“Coming out of COVID makes the 50-year milestone even sweeter,” says Thornton. “We survived in an industry hard hit by the pandemic and are starting to thrive again. Being part of the North Shore community and western suburbs has been the biggest reason we’re still here. It’s an incredible community that not only values supporting local businesses but that also puts travel, experiences, and time with family and friends above so many other things.”
To celebrate, Thornton has a variety of special moments planned throughout the year. She will be taking Royal Travel’s top sellers to Hawaii this month for a wellness-inspired retreat at the new Four Seasons Sensei Lanai. The team will also host a company party this fall and head to Vegas for their industry conference in November. They’ll plan a small client event in Dekalb, Illinois—where Thornton’s parents first launched the company—to honor this impressive milestone.
“The team has worked so hard,” explains Thornton. “Besides event and wedding planners, our industry was one of the hardest hit by COVID. We had to reschedule or rebook the same trip upward of four or five times, and at the same time handled thousands of trip cancellations. We’ve kept our spirits high, stayed ahead of COVID protocols globally, and still always put the client first.”
Business, she says, has been booming as people return to travel. And the industry has evolved to become more tech-forward, with touchless check-in to minimize human-to-human contacts, QR codes at restaurants for menu access, and more. As such, the Royal Travel team has seen an influx of both last-minute travel as well as bucket list trip planning.
According to Thornton, Western Europe such as France, Spain, Italy, England, and Ireland, is extremely popular right now, along with South Africa, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Greece, French Polynesia, the Maldives, and Dubai.
Regardless of destination, some travelers are looking for authenticity and are hoping for a full immersion in the cultures of their destination. Others are embracing wellness, hoping to relax and unplug after a tumultuous few years. And some are leaning into gluttony, opting for food- and wine-appreciation trips.
She recommends beginning to plan a major trip about a year in advance to ensure you are able to book the accommodations, travel, and activities you are most looking forward to enjoying while traveling.
“We are seeing a lot of multi-generational trips, too,” says Thornton. “People have missed out on a lot of birthdays and holidays, so they’re making up for lost time.”
For clients concerned about traveling safely due to COVID or global unrest, Thornton recommends a private yacht charter in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, or an African Safari. Royal Travel has seen an increase in clients renting Richard Branson’s islands in the British Virgin Islands for a private experience.
The team creates fully customized itineraries for their clients in a process Thornton likens to that of a personal shopper. Some clients like to be fully booked with every minute planned, while others prefer to lock in the hotel and flights with more time to wing it. The Royal Travel team keeps that in mind, planning a trip 100 percent unique to the traveler.
Thornton and her team travel extensively to stay abreast of the latest trends. Thornton has already visited Cuba, Hawaii, Mexico, London, and South Africa this year and she will head to Turkey, Greece, and Spain this summer. Her team has been busy traveling as well, spending time in Saudi Arabia, England, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Dubai, and more, in what Thornton calls a “canvas of the continents” that’s an effort to “practice what we preach.”
Thornton herself is on the advisory board of Travel + Leisure magazine, and two of Royal Travel advisors – Brittney Magner and Melissa Lee – are on the magazine’s A-list. Two others – Stacey Cohen and Tara Koehler – have been recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as best in the industry. Ashley Gallo of Lake Bluff is a recognized expert on travel to the Middle East and recently appeared in Travel + Leisure magazine as the face of Dubai tourism.
“We have a lot of experts on our team, which is unique for a company of this size,” says Thornton. “It’s been fun to be creative again. I have a renewed appreciation for the industry and for what we do on a daily basis; that is, make people’s dreams come true and create memories that last a lifetime.”
For more information, visit royal-travel.com or follow @RoyalTravelandTours on Instagram.