Akshay Shah is the vice president of marketing for Sky Bird Travel & Tours, Inc. He is currently the president of United States Airline Consolidation Association and is on several boards of advisors for different organizations.
Travel Research Online: Before you entered the travel industry, what experiences did you have in travel?
Akshay Shah: Thanks to my parents’ involvement in the travel industry, there has never been a time at which I was not involved in it as well. From a very young age I was fortunate enough to be able to take frequent trips including yearly excursions to India as well as the occasional cruise and what have you.
TRO: Did that translate to a greater understanding or appreciation of travel?
Mr. Shah: First and foremost, there really is a great sense of appreciation. The knowledge I have gained of the logistics of travel helps me in assisting travelers with having their own desired experiences.
TRO: How would you characterize your role at Sky Bird Travel? What kinds of responsibilities do you handle?
Mr. Shah: I jokingly tell everyone that I’m the janitor. The reason being, all the grunt work hits my desk. In all honesty, I’m fortunate enough to be involved in all aspects of the business, from negotiations to establishing processes.
TRO: Are there any aspects of Sky Bird Travel you would like more travel agents to be aware of?
Mr. Shah: Yes, Sky Bird is your international rate desk. If a travel agent is looking for an international they should check with us first to see if we can make them more money. As our tagline says: “your global partner”. Our single focus is simply to create greater profit for our travel agent customers.
TRO: Are there any new and exciting developments on the horizon for Sky Bird?
Mr. Shah: One of our greatest focuses is to invest in technology. All the technology on the B2B website is proprietary. In addition, we are constantly taking feedback in order to improve the site and ensure it is relevant for our customers. Within the next couple weeks we will be updating our site with great new features. One aspect in particular will help the agency managers and owners track the reservations of their staff. It’s something we are very excited to be able to offer to our customers.
TRO: How does Sky Bird Travel & Tours manage its rates to get the lowest possible airfares for clients—and the best possible commission for agents?
Mr. Shah: We are constantly working with our airline partners to provide our customers with updated fare comparisons and market intelligence. We are able to help our agents sell the preferred airlines which helps them generate greater revenue. This is achieved by constantly negotiating with the airlines to ensure the most competitive rates are being offered. In addition, we update our agents on specials offered by airlines immediately which is a very important facet of making the travel agent as much profit as possible.
TRO: What specialty tours does Sky Bird offer? What about these particular destinations do you think is so attractive to agents and clients?
Mr Shah: Sky Bird’s sister company, Sky Vacations, provides phenomenal tours to its customers. India has been the primary focus since the company’s inception. The culture, cuisine, and overall experience of India are, in my opinion, unmatched. Aside from India, we have had 35 years to develop relationships with other great management companies in regions all over the world. Thanks to these contacts we can create custom tours to any region based on the interest of the customer. This translates to great prices with the best possible experience for the travel agents’ customers.
TRO: What do you think makes Sky Bird Travel & Tours stand out from other suppliers?
Mr. Shah: In a word, service. Let me tell you what happened the other day, an agent had booked a number of flights that subsequently dropped in price the following day. We alerted this agent of the change, cancelled and rebooked the previous tickets and refunded them the difference in price. We aren’t just out to finish the transaction and move on. Our job isn’t over when the ticket is issued; our job is only over when the passenger returns home. We want the travel agents to not only succeed, but to thrive.
TRO: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with us?
Mr. Shah: A lot of people believe the travel industry is not favorable for travel agents in the current environment. I believe this industry is so volatile and ever-changing that the end customer needs a travel agent more than ever. When a travel agent is effective they can take an otherwise complicated transaction and simplify it for the traveler. That in itself is invaluable. In addition, the travel agent can create an experience that the end customer would most likely miss the mark on had they booked it themselves.