"If I keep my staff happy, they will keep my clients happy and I will be happy - it's the circle of life," says Bulsara
TRAVELHotNews.com profiles Firdosh Bulsara from Huntington Travel's My Escapades. With a career spanning 30 years in the travel industry, Bulsara says from day one of his career, “it has [always] been the travel bug.”
He began in the industry straight out of college. Originally from India, his first job was a telex operator for Pan American Airlines in Mumbai. “That was my travel industry startup and since then, I have never looked back, ever.”
His job in the reservations department led to phone sales, which led him to a sales representative position calling on travel agents; Bulsara worked his way up the Pan Am ladder and eventually accepted a position that took him to Tehran, Iran with the company. “We had a marvellous time in Iran for almost four years, and then the revolution came. So on Nov. 5, 1978, they shut down the Pan Am office.”
The very next day, Bulsara transitioned to British Airways (BA) and made his way to Yemen to manage the GSA office there. “It was quite an eye-opener. You walk out of civilization and into the ‘dark old days’. Yemen in those days was 200 years behind. Transistor radios were just making their appearances; it was a tough time but I brought the office from an offline to an online one.”
|Bulsara in Kenya, 1989|
Bulsara’s career takes flight
It was at BA where “the flying bug” bit him; while working in Yemen, Bulsara would travel to Saudi Arabia twice a month to visit the head office. Due to the hassle with entry and exit visa requirements, he used to fly as a crew member. “I put on a uniform. It was very illegal but fun. I did that for almost two years…The entire airport probably thought I was crew, and I had to fly in the cockpit.”
After seven years in the Middle East, Bulsara was ready to move to a more developed country and put his roots down. He applied to flying schools in Australia, the U.S. and Canada, and was accepted to a school in Kitchener-Waterloo.
|Meeting Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki |
After he obtained his private pilot’s licence, he went for his commercial licence and had difficulty finding a position due to his age and less-than-20/20 vision. “The only other option was to look at travel from the other side.”
Making his move into another side of the travel business, Bulsara purchased an agency in 1982 and started a wholesale division specializing in Africa and India a few years after that.
Political troubles in African nations in 1993 including the TWA hijacking, Egyptian violence directed at tourists, the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in Rwanda and the apartheid struggle in South Africa meant that business “nosedived to the point where we had to actually start refunding deposits,” and the company shut down.
Less than 24 hours later, Bulsara was hired by Sunquest; after developing a luxury program, Sunquest Select, featuring high-end safaris, and Asia product with “a great team”, he moved on to Goway, rebranding their AfricaExperts division in 2001.
|At Mandela Square in Johannesburg, South Africa with his wife|
“Those were a marvelous four years at Goway. Great company, great people, wonderful team. In a nutshell, that was the Canadian side [of my career] and then I was headhunted to run a company in Miami.”
Bulsara moved on to luxury operator Karell’s African Dream Vacations in 2005-2006 and stayed there for 20 months.
“I wasn’t comfortable because the family [remained] in Canada. My wife was not the type to pack up and move. She had roots in Canada. After a lot of reflecting upon what I should do and what I shouldn’t do, finally the decision was made that Canada is the best for all of us. And truly it is. It’s a blessed country.”
Upon his return to Canada, he pondered retirement but when approached by Kiran Budhev, president of Huntington Travel, to join the team, he quickly reconsidered his decision.
“I love challenges. I can’t sit not doing anything…here I am starting at the grassroots again, taking [the business] to a level where I can bring it to be a force in the Canadian marketplace to be reckoned with. We are slowly but surely getting there.”
Getting lost in golf
If he wasn’t in the travel industry, Bulsara probably would have been a pilot, given his love of flying.
|On the golf course|
In another life, he says, “I would have loved to have owned a golf course. My passion in life is golf, although I am not a good player by any means. I would love to play Pebble Beach. [Of course, I’ll only do it] when I get good at playing,” he quips.
He comments that playing golf is akin to doing business. “You’ve got to know the distance, the elevation, the roll and the spin, and you’ve got to swing accordingly. It’s the same thing in business. You need to know where you want to land, and you need to have that goal, and be a perfectionist to ensure that you land there.”
And what kind of a boss is he? TRAVELHotNews.com spoke to one longtime staff member, Glen Griffin, who has worked alongside Bulsara for 20 years, noting his boss is “a fantastic manager and fair – we work well together. If you need guidance, he’s there. When I started I was as green as could possibly be. Everything I’ve learned I learned from him.”
|With Huntington Travel President (far left), Kiran Budhev, and the rest of the Huntington team|
Bulsara says a good team is important to a successful business. That’s why some of his employees have been with him for long stretches of time. “One is celebrating their 21st year; another lady has been here for seven years. Another was here for five years and another spent fourteen-and-a-half years with me before retiring. I like longevity in my team. We don’t have a ‘revolving door policy’. If I keep my staff happy, they will keep my clients happy and I will be happy – it’s the circle of life.”
Business philosophy – the team and the client
His philosophy of business hinges on the importance of his team, and the importance of delivering satisfaction to the client. “If you want to grow in business, you must be fully convinced that what you’re offering is what you will deliver. It’s as simple as that.”
Does he ever get stressed out during the workday? “That’s one of the least things on my list of worries,” he laughs, talking about an editorial cartoon that shows people on a rollercoaster. The caption reads, ‘Worry is like a rollercoaster ride. You get on a rollercoaster, you scream your head off for a minute and a half, and you get off in the same place where you started. So what’s the point of worrying?’
“I don’t stress. I sleep very well…I will sleep standing up at a bus stop. I actually snore standing at a bus stop. I’m blessed that way. I can sleep anywhere,” he jokes, noting that he can fall “fast asleep before the plane is even taxiing”. Bulsara is also a person who doesn’t get jet-lagged. He says he has flown the 27 hours from South Africa to Toronto, landed in Toronto at noon, has no problem getting to work at 3 p.m. with no problems – “thank God for flatbeds!”
When asked about his achievements, Bulsara says modestly, “I’m not one for trophies,” and instead finds value helping those in need.
One of the initiatives he is most proud of is the ‘Tee Off for Tiny Tots’ golf tournament Huntington hosts each year, to provide impoverished children in India and Africa with meals, school books, teacher salaries and more.
“That is my proudest moment when I walk into those establishments and see the smiles on their faces. That is to die for.”
Eventually, he would like to start additional programs in rural India and rural East Africa.
Most important things in life
To Bulsara, the most important thing in life is family. “I believe that your family is everything. And you have no idea how heart-wrenching it becomes [to be apart from your family].”
|With one of his sons at the United Nations, New York City|
He has two sons, both in university; one of his sons worked over the summer with him at Huntington “and he is starting to like it,” smiles Bulsara.
Worst travel experience – being unprepared
With all that travelling, he’s bound to have a few best and worst travel experiences to share. Ironically, his worst experience hinges upon his ‘expertise’ – in this case, unpreparedness.
When on a safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park in June, “I did not advise my family to pack serious winter clothing. We woke up and it was -3 Celsius. We were on an early dawn game drive. We had blankets and hot water bottles…an embarrassment on my part,” he recollects.
Best travel experiences – too many to count
|On a safari in South Africa with the family|
Regarding his best travel experiences, Bulsara gushes, “I have had the best of the best experiences- watching a sunrise over Kilimanjaro, walking on the shores of the Galapagos with seals and hundreds of iguanas. Being caught up in the annual wildebeest migration, right in the middle of it.
Being chased by a rhino in the Masai Mara. In India, in the middle of the Ganesh festival in a crowd of over one million. I once drove to a remote city in Yemen – Hodeida – on the coast – not a single vehicle had licence plates – totally lawless.”
He continues, speaking about the glories of shopping in Hong Kong and a market in Marrakech, Morocco where he and other shoppers were greeted by a massive swarm of flies. “You can actually write a book when you have 30 years of experience in travel.”
Near and dear – Africa and India
Having represented Africa and India throughout the span of his career, TRAVELHotNews.com asked Bulsara why these destinations are so special to him. He answered, “India is my birthplace. And the attachment is there.”
|With his wife in South Africa|
He says another beautiful thing about the country is the transformative effect it can have on clients who fall in love with the destination. “Once they come back [to Canada], they have become ambassadors of the country…with an insider’s perspective.”
“Africa is a whole different ballgame. A Kenyan lady said to me one day, ‘You can leave Africa but Africa will never leave you.’ And that stuck with me forever. The beauty, the wildlife…the people, their warmth, the genuine hospitality. It’s not a dollar hospitality. They don’t expect anything from you. And that grew on me over the years. I can’t stay away from it…it’s like a fortress that has captured me. I don’t mean it in a sense of captivity. It’s in the sense of…the best that I can ever have in the world is in Africa.
Africa has been blessed and cursed at the same time. It has the finest of the finest when it comes to wildlife, natural resources, scenic beauty. And at the same time it is cursed, where it comes to people and politics. Corruption has gutted the continent. There is poverty, there is sickness, disease, lack of education – all of that. But, as I’ve seen over the last 31 years, there is 100 per cent progress. There are more children being educated now. There is more wealth in terms of modernization of the continent. There is more health care and awareness. There will always be pockets of political strife, but that is Africa, and life goes on.”
Bringing back TOPAC
As a side note, Bulsara had been involved in an organization, Tour Operators Promoting Africa in Canada (TOPAC) from the year 2000 until his departure to Miami. The organization will be restarting again this year. Keep reading TRAVELHotNews.com for more developments on TOPAC.
Q&A with Firdosh Bulsara
TRAVELHotNews.com: What is something people might not know about you?
Firdosh Bulsara: I am Zoroastrian by birth. It is an ancient Persian religion. I have the good fortune to have been born in a priestly family – I am ordained in my community. I give my services on a volunteer basis – weddings, funerals, et cetera. Very few people know that about me.
TRAVELHotNews.com: What is the word you use most often?
FB:Sales. My staff get very annoyed, because every second word I speak is ‘sales’.
TRAVELHotNews.com: Advice you would give to yourself at 19?
FB: Don’t go into the travel business! (Laughs heartily)
TRAVELHotNews.com: Where are some destinations you would like to visit?
FB: Inner Mongolia. That’s my dream. It’s the entire nomadic culture [that appeals to me]. There are so many places I need to be. I have to do Machu Picchu – another dream I have. I have to ride The Ghan in Australia. So those are my three goals.
TRAVELHotNews.com: What’s in your travel kit?
FB: I am an easy-going person. I adapt to every kind of environment. I don’t suffer from jet lag. [All I need is a] torchlight, a clean set of underwear. I don’t travel with checked baggage – I hate travel with checked baggage, no matter the duration of my trip.
TRAVELHotNews.com would like to thank Firdosh Bulsara for his time and cooperation.