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THE MAN BEHIND SKY BIRD TRAVEL SUCCESS STORY

Standing by the window in his Empire State New York Office overlooking the metropolitan city, Arvin Shah, Chairman & President of SKY BIRD TRAVEL & TOURS is the owner of one of the largest National Airline Consolidators in the United States. Headquartered in Detroit, Michigan he has a staff of 200 employees with branch offices across the USA and another 150 employees in two cities of India, Mumbai and Chennai.

With a confident smile and a sparkle in his eyes, Arvin recalled how he and his wife, Jayashree, first started their travel agency, Jaya Travel Inc in 1974 at their home in Windsor, Canada. "We literally worked off "the kitchen table." Soon after starting Jaya Travel, Arvin and Jaya became proud parents to Akshay and Priya.

In 1976, the Shah family established Sky Bird Travel & Tours, Inc., along side with Jaya Travel, which catered to the growing South Asian ethnic community throughout the USA and Canada. Sky Bird / Jaya Travel is a full service leisure travel agency, offering airline tickets, hotels, car rentals and customized tour packages to valued customers.

As immigrants from the sub-continent of India, this is a true story of the American Dream achieved through determination, hard work and persistence. It was no easy task and demanded grit, self-confidence and taking financial risks to gamble in the unpredictable travel business.


"We had our share of ups and downs, until we started thinking more seriously about taking a different approach in the competitive travel industry, while exploring other alternatives like the travel consolidator market. It was an expensive move and involved a lot of risk-taking challenges," explained Arvin. Handling the management and development of the business, Arvin decided on the consolidation form of airline ticket distribution, unique in the travel industry. Arvin's vision was to make Sky Bird the leading consolidator for international travel.


"Arvin Shah with his wife, Jayashree and their son,Akshay"

To achieve this vision, he knew that Sky Bird Travel & Tours had to provide a competitive advantage to meet the needs of its customers, the travel agents. Through its customer-driven advanced technology solutions Sky Bird has been able to make each transaction profitable and simple for its clients. Therefore, he and his management staff make technology accessible and affordable to the greatest number of users, by delivering innovative, popular fare distribution systems that are easy to use and access for travel agents. He also invested a substantial amount of resources in adapting and maintaining the latest technology. It was this spirit of adventure in accepting technological innovations, which is a major factor of Sky Bird's success.

When airline industry reduced travel agents commissions to zero, Sky Bird Travel continued to work with their client agencies reminding them "they had nothing to worry because as their consolidator, we allowed the travel agency to determine its own selling price and service fees by offering discount airline travel fares to their clients and increased customer's satisfaction, while increasing the agency's profitability. Which travel agent does not want to purchase an airline seat at a deeply discounted price?"

"Therefore, Sky Bird offers the same airline seat that other distributors offer but at lower costs that is sometimes a saving of up to 10-40%," says Arvin, "and most of the tickets are LESS RESTRICTIVE than published and/ or web fares. Not only do most of the fares allow frequent flier accrual but they also can be changed and/ or refunded for a fee. We offer less expensive tickets but also provide more flexibility with the ticket!" Within its first decade, Sky Bird Travel & Tours gained a reputation for quality and dependability. It keeps providing its clientele with professional quality services along a diversified array of travel destinations all with the highest standards of excellence. This high standard was recognized early and rewarded by various segments of the travel industry, involving major awards and citations from numerous international airlines like: Pan Am, Air India, Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines, Northwest, United, Delta Air Lines, Air France, Singapore Airlines, etc.

During the next two decades, Arvin had masterminded different approaches in the travel and hospitality business to stay ahead of the game. Along with Mr. Vrajesh Patel, Vice-President and Arvin's son Akshay, they are working to build and grow the business through all the many challenges of the airline industry. "Why limit oneself in business - why not handle the complete international airline ticketing to India and China, as well as Europe, the Middle East and Far East, Africa, Asia, South Pacific and Latin America from all major cities of origin in the USA?" Arvin asked. This idea seemed feasible and made business sense as Arvin maneuvered the task of expanding into the major global travel management business.

In order to grow the business, Arvin's first step was to focus on technologies that would create automation and help distribute content to the greatest number of clients. Today, Sky Bird Travel & Tours invites travel agencies to book through its online portal, which then provides discount travel on over 67 different airlines, serving all major continents through a database consisting of more than 15,000,000 net fares to various destinations worldwide. The benefits for travel professionals are: (a) net fares - agency determines the mark-up and increases revenue faster than airline direct bookings; and (b) 100% online book process and no need to call or send emails which saves time and money.

As a businessman moving ahead of his time, Arvin Shah explained: "With our website travel agencies across the US were able to check flight availability and confirm consolidator tickets immediately back to their customers, resulting in increased vendor profitability. The greatest feature of the portal was taking the guesswork away from the travel agent on what flights to use for the correct net fare. A tremendous amount of time was saved for the vendor and most importantly, the travel agent."

In April 2008, Arvin Shah stood proud on the podium at a major annual mega presentation in New York's Park Central Hotel, which began Sky Bird's 2008 Infotainment Seminars that traveled to Washington, DC, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Throughout these cities there were approximately 150 travel agents in attendance for each of these seminars. Arvin Shah reminded them that his management team and staff are always working to support and improve their profitability in the coming years.

The presentations were a wonderful mix of business and entertainment where the main themes focused on "Infotainment" and changing one's perception of power - the power of the human mind and its ability to achieve the impossible travel dream. Arvin presented Deepak Rao, the showcase celebrity as the person who would challenge the group towards the extraordinary challenge the industry faced. He had Rao flown from India to entertain his guest audiences and Rao had them at the edge of their seats in laughter / awe with his "extra sensory perception" at all eight destinations. Arvin feels that SKY BIRD success is "the success of a travel management organization rather than a typical travel agency. We have customer services, round-the-clock analysts who generate sales reports so I have updated information fares, which airlines are we are selling in the market, we have network programmers and all four GDS systems which take care of clients and the customers simultaneously."

"We have opened another division called SKY VACATIONS which focuses on International tours. Italy is one of our most popular destinations where we offer some of the best tours and packages to our clients. We also introduced exclusive tours to India for the NRI market as well as destinations in South America and the Pacific."

This year saw Arvin branching out into the entertainment industry. He believes that "if you have assets, it always helps to diversify." He co-produced a made-in-the-USA Bollywood Hindi Movie called "Hastey, Hastey." The film relates to the story of Neel, a brilliant student at Columbia University and pretty Maya, his sweetheart, on the verge of starting a new life together in New York. This film brought him into the limelight during the premiere openings around the USA. He was interviewed on local WKBD Channel 50 in Detroit and explained the importance of encouraging young talented South Asian actors. As one of the co-producers, he wished success to the future careers of Jimmy Sheirgill, Nisha Rawal, Rajpal Yadav, Monishka, Sarah Thomas, Shivaram Kumar, Ashutosh Bajpay, and Charlie Durso.

The Shah family strongly feels that "giving back to the community" is very important. Arvin says, "I totally believe in giving ... otherwise you are like the man sitting in a boat filling up with water (success) in the middle of the sea. The water keeps filling the boat until the man takes it out and re-distributes it back into the sea (the community) – otherwise the boat will sink. Our success today is because of the support of our community." Most people within the community know the generosity of Arvin from all the years that he has been giving to social, cultural and religious events. Examples are: cultural dance and music concerts, the Cancer Society of New York, the Nargis Dutt Research Foundation, the Tsunami 2004, Bhuj earthquake relief, Katrina relief fund etc.

After the Kutch 2001 earthquake, many people had a need for rehabilitation after recovering from their injuries. Arvin and Jaya discovered there was no rehabilitation center in the area, so they became instrumental in raising over one crore rupees for the Jaya Rehabilitation Institute and Research Center at Bidada Sarvodaya Trust in Bidada. This facility was inaugurated in 2005 and has now become the number one successful rehab center in India today.

After reviewing the 9/11 short film story of "MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Sikhs in America" in 2004, Arvin and Jaya gave a major donation from the Jaya Foundation to promote the distribution of DVDs and screenings across USA, Canada and the UK. There were over 25-30 screenings held in London, Bedford, Manchester, Coventry (Peace March), Leeds, Leicester, Birmingham, etc., - where large numbers of Sikhs resided. The screenings turned into forums and seminars for discussions on Interfaith, informing and educating the British and American populations about their Sikh neighbors, who were being racially profiled and mistaken for terrorists after 9/11. The Shah's are very involved with Inter-faith events and have contributed to most religious organizations with a worthy cause. They sponsored donations to the BAPS of Greater Detroit / Chicago, Bhartiya Temple, Siddhachalam in New Jersey, Queens Ganapathy Hindu Temple, Los Angeles Jain temple and most Jain temples across the US as well as in India. Arvin has always supported the Kachchhi Oswal Jain (KOJAIN) community from Kutch where his family is from.

On August 1 2008, Arvin Shah as the Chairman of the Kachchhi Jains event in Detroit had organized a 3-day weekend for Young Entrepreneurship where workshops were held inviting young people from the ages of 18-35 years who were interested in starting their own business - any kind of business from IT to small business.

"We had guest speakers to teach them how to get into business with discussions and Q & A at two to three workshops from Friday to Sunday. We had musical evenings and plenty of food, promoting the cultural art, handcrafts, music and dance of Kutch. There are over 500 Kutchi Jain families in the US. From this number we had great representation of all Kutchi's from around the country that attended the meeting we held in Detroit, Michigan."

When asked how he relaxes, Arvin promptly replied: "There is no relaxation in my life. I think if I really relax, I'll go crazy. I cannot sit alone by myself and do nothing. During my daily work life, I am involved with so many different activities that my day starts at 7 am. I call all my people in India and across the USA, evaluating and then negotiating deals. If there are issues with the business, they must be solved. Once in the office, there is the daily routine of meetings, planning sales and marketing which takes me well into the night."

"When I travel anywhere, I can't help but work. One luxury I discovered and enjoy fully is taking cruises. I also enjoy going to Italy as it is one of my favorite places in the world. But all the time while I am on these trips I am working."

Standing by his New York office window, Arvin concluded by saying "Thank God I came to America - this is the right place. The land of opportunities. When I came here I had nothing but in America, if you work hard, you can achieve anything you desire." There was that same sparkle in his eyes and he said, "It is a matter of knowing what you want to accomplish and then going after that dream."

- BY VINANTI SARKAR CASTELLARIN

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