As VP of Marketing at Sky Bird Travel & Tours, Akshay Shah sees firsthand how airfare consolidators can benefit travel agents. With decades of experience, Akshay has helped Sky Bird evolve and remain competitive in an ever-changing and technologically-advancing environment. He is always conjuring up ways to help the travel agent grow their business. While his goal as a consolidator is to negotiate fares that give agents an edge, his goal as a leader is to help educate agents on current events and trends in the travel industry that will help them become a better resource, and therefore more valuable, to their clients. Akshay was president of the United States Air Consolidation Association and is an Honorary Associate Director for the Jaya Rehabilitation Institute and Research Center. He lives in Michigan with his very patient wife and three daughters, who want nothing more than to give him a hard time.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What motivated you to enter the travel industry?
Akshay Shah (AS): My father started this company over 40 years ago. I’ve been sitting in the office since I was 8 years old. I’ve traveled to India every year since I was born. I’ve been lucky to go on cruises and other wonderful places, and meet fantastic people; I’m a child of this industry, so to speak. The people I work with (airlines, GDSs, and travel agents) are vendors and clients. They are now my airline friends, my GDS friends, and my travel agent friends. Is it a job? Yes, some people would say so. But what better job could I ask for where I get to hang out with my friends all day?
TRO: Tell us about your day-to-day role at Sky Bird Travel & Tours.
AS: On a day-to-day basis I come here and I work with the marketing department, accounts, and the sales people, as well as the GDS and airlines to ensure that we are pushing our product (consolidator airline tickets). We make it easy and accessible to sell through our travel partners. That’s my sole purpose: Help the end customer, our travel partners here in the US and Canada, earn revenue through us.
TRO: How is Sky Bird continuing to offer “a great product and a great service” to its travel agent customers?
AS: We are trying to provide more relevant information to assist travel agents. We expanded our marketing department so we can inform clients of what’s selling out there. We have thousands of contracts, but how does an agent utilize them when they get a request? We need to be there in order to give them information to say, “Here, focus on this. Or here’s another deal you can promote to your clients.” In addition, there’s a world of change that’s happening on the technological side of the travel industry, especially with airlines. New aircrafts are coming in, airlines are talking about new distributions, and GDS’s are coming up with their own way of interpreting activities that airlines want. It’s always our sole purpose to facilitate and make it easy for our travel partners to buy tickets through us.
TRO: Sky Bird has its own custom online booking engine. What makes the engine so unique, and how is it giving travel agents a competitive edge?
AS: It’s customized technology and it’s going through a huge revision. But right now it provides a competitive edge amongst other consolidators, as well as online travel agencies, because it’s hitting two GDS systems at once. It’s getting the best rates, best availability, and presenting it to the travel agent. Our booking engine is able to retrieve the best inventory, which then gives you the best fare. We had an instance where a party of four was going to Africa, the agent was sitting in “X” GDS and went to our website. The inventory he got from our website he couldn’t find in his own GDS. He ended up making $150 extra per person just because that last seat was there.
TRO: What can travel agents expect when working with Sky Bird to book their client’s airfare or itineraries?
AS: Number one: professional service. Number two: Unlike our competitors, we believe travel is a person-to-person relationship. Is the booking engine great and customizable? Yes, it’s fantastic, but the strength of Sky Bird is its people. We know that you are dealing with customers that are demanding. We understand that you work at odd hours. Your customers have needs at odd hours. We’re 24/7 now. We’re there for you. In essence, Sky Bird is just another agent in each of our travel partners’ offices.
TRO: Tell us about the Jaya Rehabilitation Institute and Research Center.
AS: Jaya is my mom’s name, and the rehabilitation center is in India on the northwest side located in my mother’s village. There was an earthquake in 2001 that devastated the villages out there, and we were given the opportunity to help. There was a hospital that bandaged and fixed everybody, but there was no follow-up care. We created this rehabilitation center with the wonderful staff they have there, which consists of 18 to 20 people. In 2015, along with the volunteers they were able to service over 52,000 patients. They do occupational therapy, hearing assistance, and prosthetics. Aside from servicing humans, they assist animals as well. If a camel lost its leg or if a cow got hit by a tractor, they would put a prosthetic on them so they could still live and continue on.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
AS: That continuously changes. When you find a new spot you’re like, “Wow, this is awesome!” But then you go back and think about the other places you’ve been and you’re like, “OK, that’s also awesome.” In South Africa, you have Cape Town and Kruger. In Rome, walking around the city is fantastic. Costa Rica with its wildlife is amazing. Then I have India, where my roots are from. I’m not going to just pick one. I like all these places.
TRO: What is on the horizon for Sky Bird in the upcoming year?
AS: Technological advancements to help facilitate the travel agent. We have some initiatives that we’re looking at. Trying to see how it will play out and where the end agent will benefit. It’s in its infant stage right now. We’re discussing with the airlines what their needs are, the GDS, and the products they’re offering. You’ve got all these ingredients, you just need to put them together to make something delicious.
For more information on Akshay and Sky Bird Travel, visit them online at skybirdtravel.com.