Arvin Shah, Owner and President of Sky Bird Travel & Tours
Arvin Shah, Owner and President of Sky Bird Travel & Tours, came to the USA in 1969 on a student visa. He graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. After college, Arvin started Sky Bird Travel in 1976. Sky Bird’s first office was a small space in downtown Detroit. From these humble beginnings, Sky Bird has grown to become one of the largest national airline consolidators in the USA. Along with their headquarters in Detroit, Sky Bird has branch offices located in Atlanta, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, with international offices in Toronto and Mumbai.
Sky Bird is proud to have contracts with over 90 airline partners. Travel agents can access the Sky Bird website to receive the best net fares and commission programs on these airlines for all worldwide destinations. The company has also been the recipient of top sales awards from all the major airlines including American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Lufthansa German Airlines, United Airlines, and more.
Arvin’s family includes his wife Jaya and his two children Akshay and Priya. Akshay and his wife Shweta work at Sky Bird Headquarters. Priya’s husband, Rupesh, is the Manager for the San Francisco office. Charity work has always been a priority in Arvin’s life. He believes in doing whatever possible to give back to the community, both on a professional and personal level. Sky Bird’s donations include $25,000 to Red Cross for the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund in 2012, the Pakistan Earthquake Victims Fund, and the Philippines Typhoon Relief Fund. Arvin and his wife established the Jaya Rehabilitation Center in India in 2005 as a means to provide prosthetic treatment to victims of the 2001 Earthquake in Kutch, India. This Center is now celebrating its 10th year and has won a National Government Award for Best Rehabilitation Center in India. The Jaya Rehab Center is 100% funded by Mr. Shah and his family.
Sky Bird Travel will be celebrating its 40th year in the travel industry in 2016. As the company motto states, “Customer Service is the Reason for our Success.” Along with excellent customer service, Sky Bird represents trust, dependability, and experience. It is truly the travel agent’s “Global Partner.”
Travel Research Online (TRO): How did you make the move from Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to a career in the travel industry?
Arvin Shah (AS): During my college days in the early 70’s, I worked part time at a travel agency on the Wayne State University campus. Joe Vetraino was owner of Medical Center Travel at that time. Joe taught me how to look at the OAGs, how to find flights, destinations, connections, etc.
Back then, the airlines had a major presence in downtown Detroit. Joe and I attended many of their functions. From there, I ended up meeting a lot of people in the travel industry and started to make connections. After meeting so many people, I found the travel business to be the most glamorous industry next to Hollywood.
I was also involved with the Indian community through Wayne State’s Indian Student Association. The Indian community was quite small in those days. Everyone became aware that I worked at a travel agency and started asking me for fares to India. This is the way I started getting the business for people to travel from Detroit to India. From there, I opened my own travel agency in downtown Detroit. That was the start of Sky Bird Travel.
TRO: Tell us about your role at Sky Bird Travel & Tours.
AS: As President of Sky Bird Travel, my job is to oversee all aspects of the business from sales, marketing, finance, information technology, etc. The company has grown to nearly 200 people now with nine offices in USA and one in Canada. We have a management team of 25 people that handle the day-to-day operations.
My main role is to negotiate contracts with our airline partners and to maintain and develop our relations with them. This aspect of my job requires constant travel to visit with airlines at their various headquarters across the country. With over 90 carriers, this is a time consuming job but is one that I love to do as I enjoy meeting people. I have made so many friendships over the years through my travels. I also try to keep in touch with my friends even though they have left their job with the airline.
I also travel frequently to visit our branch office locations to personally meet with our managers and key clients.
TRO: What services does Sky Bird offer for travel agents?
AS: We offer travel agents access to all of our fares (both net and commissionable fares) on over 90 different carriers. We also offer round-the-world packages, group fares, tours, and fares originating outside of North America. In addition, our tour company Sky Vacations offers our clients a wide range of tour packages to sell which gives them the ability to make higher profits. In addition to air and land, we also offer cruises, cars, hotels, and insurance
TRO: How is Sky Bird different from other airline consolidation groups?
AS: I go back to our motto when describing how Sky Bird differentiates itself from the competition. “Service is the reason for our success”. Sky Bird prides itself in the high level of customer service we give to our clients. We provide 24/7 service for our travel partners that involves more than just booking and ticketing. We are there for them in case of emergencies such as flight cancellations, schedule changes, etc.
Sky Bird is now entering its 40th year in business and has a track record of excellent service which is second-to-none.
TRO: What can an agent expect when they use Sky Bird to book flights for their clients?
AS: Through our booking engine, our clients receive immediate response with up-to-date flight availability and best fares. From time of booking to ticketing, turn-around time is usually less than 5 minutes. Our service does not end with the ticket issuance. We also are available 24/7 to assist with any schedule changes, flight cancellations, etc. Commission payments are made to agents within 7 days on weekly basis.
TRO: Sky Bird has a long track record of helping the community, and the same applies to you personally as well. Could you tell us about the Jaya Rehabilitation Center and how it became a reality?
AS: I was very touched by the tragedy of the earthquake in Kutch, Gujurat, India in year 2001. There were over 20,000 fatalities and numerous injuries. This tragedy particularly hit home with me as Kutch is my native place. I wanted to do something to assist the many victims of this disaster. With help of Bidada Savodaya Trust, my wife and I established a rehabilitation center in Kutch. Jaya Rehabilitation Center provides physiotherapy, occupational therapy, prosthetic and orthotic services, assists with the speech and hearing impaired, and gives vocational guidance. The facility’s center now has 50 beds and services over 40,000 patients annually.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
AS: My favorite destination is Italy. I have visited the country eight times and have traveled from Northern Italy to Southern Italy. I just love the country, the people, the history, the food etc.
TRO: Is anything new and exciting on the horizon for Sky Bird?
AS: Sky Bird is planning to expand its presence in Canada with the opening of a new office in Vancouver, BC. With this new office, we will have even more options available for US agents to sell Canadian airline fares. We hope to have this new office ready by fall 2015 and are excited to branch out into Western Canada.
To learn more about Arvin Shah and Sky Bird Travel and Tours, visit them online at www.skybirdtravel.com.