This year, family-owned travel agency Royal Travel & Tours will celebrate 50 years of business. Founded in 1972 by Larry and Kay Berke in DeKalb, the agency is now owned and run by their daughter Kendra Thornton, who took the reins in 2016 and relocated 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 & Tours team has unparalleled knowledge of—and access to—the finest travel experiences in the world.
To honor this impressive milestone, Thornton has a variety of special moments planned throughout the year. She will be taking Royal Travel & Tours’ top sellers to Hawaii in May 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 Las Vegas for their industry conference in November. Royal Travel will launch a new cutting edge web site and brand redesign in November; that Thornton says will better fit with the company’s “ability to curate unique authentic experiences that are reflections of our individual client’s interests and tastes.
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 & Tours 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 & Tours 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 & Tours 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 (twice), Mexico, London, France and South Africa earlier this year, and spent her summer sailing in Turkey, Greece, and Spain. Her team has been busy traveling as well, spending time in Saudi Arabia, England, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, 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 & Tours’ 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. Kim Launer, Royal’s longest employee with a rolodex of luxury clients across the Western Suburbs was selected by Travel Agent Magazine as one of the top travel agents of all time.
“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.