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Royal Travel celebrates 45-year anniversary

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Royal Travel & Tours, founded by Larry and Kay Berke in DeKalb, is celebrating its 45th year anniversary in 2017. The company hosted a celebratory dinner last week at Faranda’s in DeKalb. The couple is pictured with their daughter, Kendra Thornton, who now runs the business since her parents' retirement in 2015.[]

Larry and Kay Berke had no idea their mom-and-pop travel company would turn into a global success.

Royal Travel & Tours, founded by the Berke family in DeKalb, is celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2017. The company hosted a celebratory dinner last week at Faranda’s Banquet Hall in DeKalb to mark the milestone.

“Loyalty has been the biggest thing,” Larry Berke said. “Not just with our clients, but our employees have been very dedicated over the years. We certainly wouldn’t be here without them.”

Larry and Kay retired in 2015, and turned the company over to their daughter, Kendra Thornton.

Thornton, a Northwestern University graduate and former director of corporate communications at Orbitz, said most of the transition has been seamless and she plans to take Royal Travel to new heights.

Recently, Thornton has placed an emphasis on providing more than just a destination, stressing customers are looking for more to do than just lay on the beach.

“It’s all about experience,” Thornton said. “People rarely have vacation time. This time is so important to them, we have to make it perfect.”

Royal Travel provides luxury accommodations to both domestic and international destinations. The company has 20 employees, including a dozen in DeKalb and Chicago. The remaining employees are spread throughout the country.

To further advance customer experience, Thornton said Royal Travel employees take an annual familiarization trip so the company can truly explore possible destinations.

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith attended Wednesday’s event and applauded the company’s success.

“The travel business has changed ... this agency embraced the changes that have occurred,” Smith said. “I’m thrilled to be here in a community that has given so much to many of us.”

Royal Travel agent Kim Launer has worked for the company for nearly 35 years. She stressed the importance of paying attention to change in the industry, noting Thornton has been an impressive leader during her first two years atop the company.

Thornton also addressed the issues of battling competitors such as online agencies and advertising to millennials. When it comes to the younger crowd, she said she believes the company has come full circle.

“Before, when the internet got big, it seemed like that’s where everyone was turning to,” Thornton said. “But once everyone realizes you can have dedicated individuals taking care of every step, that’s when we started having more people come back to us.”