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Rochester Top 100: Longtime Brighton firm is well-traveled

Rochester Business Journal
June 17, 2016

Van Zile Travel Service is a third-generation company that continues to grow by turning challenges into opportunities after being in business for more than 100 years.

The corporate meetings business is the company’s strongest area of growth. In an industry where relationships are key, Van Zile depends on the longevity of the accounts it cultivates to build its business.

Those relationships can be lost through no fault of Van Zile when a client is the subject of a merger or acquisition in a business deal. Or the company can expand its portfolio with the addition of a client’s new team.

“When one of our clients is acquired by another company, they either stay with us or they may go to the other company’s agency,” said Kate Van Zile, president and owner. “It’s a challenge but also an opportunity for us. We can get our foot in the door and show the new company a different level of service we can provide them.”

The meetings business, which declined after the 2008 economic downturn, steadily increased beginning in 2012, Van Zile said.

“A lot of companies starting doing meeting business again. It’s an interesting cycle. We had three rough years and four good years,” she said.

Revenues have climbed each year as well, growing from $32 million in 2013 to $35 million in 2014 to $38 million in 2015.

Corporate dependence on travel agencies is more important than ever, said Van Zile’s business account manager, Heather Persechino.

As an example, she points to recent delays through airport security checkpoints caused by the shortage of Transportation Security Administration agents. Many passengers missed flights at airports across the country because of congested security areas.

“We’re here to act as advocates on our clients’ behalf when they need to re-book flights,” Persechino said. “Many of our corporate clients have (TSA) known traveler’s numbers. It’s not always a guarantee that (number) will automatically appear on their ticket, so we do the due diligence to confirm with the airline that it is there.”

In her four years with Van Zile, she has developed relationships with all the major airlines and hotels. She can negotiate deals for her clients they could not obtain on their own. At the same time, she and the rest of the Van Zile team have taken the time to learn the specific needs and habits of their customers.

“Everyone always wants to pay less. That’s a given,” Persechino said. “It’s being able to talk to a live person and the customer service that sets you apart.”

She is one of 52 full-time employees at the agency. The company has added two employees each year since 2013.

“We’re definitely still in hiring mode,” Van Zile said, noting her company’s shifts cover the 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. time period to include the West Coast business hours.

“I’ve been doing this for 36 years,” Van Zile said.

The company was founded by her grandfather, Fayette Van Zile in 1911. She bought it from her father, Cameron Van Zile, in 1994 and has weathered many challenges since then, including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that caused a decline in travel.

More recently, global health issues thwart some people’s travel plans and threaten business for all travel agencies.

“The Zika virus can be very scary for couples,” Van Zile said. “Many people have a higher tolerance and they’re not going to let scares drive them away. So instead of the Caribbean (where the Zika virus may be) they choose to go to Europe.”

These are times when Van Zile feels she can show the value of her agency even more, she said. “It’s our job to be informed. That’s just part of what we do. We’re here to help our clients decide where to go.”

The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. The 2016 Rochester Top 100 event will be held Nov. 3. For more information, go to greaterrochesterchamber.com.

Van Zile Travel Service
Travel management company
Year Founded: 1911
Top executive: Kate Van Zile,
president and owner
Current employment: 52
2015 ranking: 99
Headquarters: Brighton
Website: vanzile.com

6/17/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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