February 2022

Business soaring for aviation graduate selling luxury holidays to star clients

By Darren Campbell

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Read time: approx 6 mins

Business has really taken off for an aviation graduate from University College Birmingham after netting a record commission through his firm selling luxury holidays to the rich and famous.

Shehryar Awan founded his own travel company, Exquisite Escapes, three years ago while still studying for his Aviation and Airport Management BA (Hons) degree at the University.

Now part of the Scotland-based Merlin Travel Group, Exquisite Escapes offers luxury package holidays specialising in destinations such as Dubai, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean, and has attracted an array of celebrities and high-profile clients – from sports icons to reality TV stars and even royalty.

"The things I learned at university about how airports and the sector works... all made me want to do this and helped me to do this"

Shehryar Awan Founder of Exquisite Escapes | Aviation and Airport Management BA (Hons)

Providing a highly tailored and personal concierge-style service for such clientele has proved very profitable for Shehryar, who recently made headlines in the tourism trade press after scooping a whopping commission of over £41,000 in just one month last December.

Counted among Exquisite Escapes' customers are former world champion boxer Amir Khan and his wife, influencer and model Faryal Makhdoom, whom Shehryar decided to reach out to on social media to offer his services for a holiday to Dubai – starting a friendship that swiftly had his business soaring.

Amir Khan and Faryal Makhdoom are among Shehryar's celebrity clients

"I am so thankful to Amir and Faryal because they really blew my business up," said Shehryar.

"We became very close friends, and they're close with lots of celebrities and high flyers, so I gained a lot of clients through them. They were the biggest part in increasing the size of my business."

Now living in Dubai himself and handling a substantial number of enquiries, Shehryar is planning to expand Exquisite Escapes and recruit more staff, having so far operated on his own alongside one administrative support worker.

It is a dream occupation for the travel-mad 25-year-old, who developed a love for luxury holidays from a young age and began supporting friends and family members to book their ideal getaways.

Deciding to pursue his passion by studying at University College Birmingham, Shehryar said his degree had proved vital for developing his understanding of the aviation and tourism sectors and for helping him to build his growing network of more than 200 industry suppliers.

"The things I learned at university about how airports and the sector works, the lessons and practical activities we did, all made me want to do this and helped me to do this," he said.

"They took us to lots of different airports and countries – Finland, Amsterdam, Dubai – and the assignments that came afterwards really gave me a good insight.

"The University had a lot of speakers from companies come and talk to us too – the likes of Birmingham Airport and Emirates – there were always speakers there."

Shehryar now lives and works in Dubai

Shehryar revealed how his degree dissertation had also played a part in inspiring him to launch his company.

"When I started doing my dissertation, that was when I decided I would start my own business," he said. "I did my dissertation on airlines and holiday sites, how they run and make their money.

"The support was endless and the lecturers were all amazing," he added. "If I was struggling, I could just email my tutors and they would reply even in the evening when I wasn't expecting them to.

"Sometimes if you missed a lesson, they would be happy to arrange a time to sit with you and go over what you'd missed. I loved all of that.

"If I had the opportunity to do another degree, I would just come back to University College Birmingham!"

Kathryn Hayat, Deputy Head of the University's Department of Hospitality and Tourism, said: "Shehryar was an enthusiastic student who had a passion for aviation and the art of travel.

"Throughout his studies, he was keen to make the most of every learning opportunity to support his ultimate career goal of running his own travel agency. He achieved this within two years of graduating!

"Shehryar is really demonstrating the resilience of demand for flying and travel and how the industry is bouncing back following the pandemic."

Garry Butcher, operations and product manager of Merlin Travel Group, said: “Shehryar has worked incredibly hard since he became a member of Merlin Travel Group barely two years ago.

“His hard work, high standards and exceptional service to his clients have earned him a tremendous commission for his last month of 2021. The future is also incredibly bright for Exquisite Escapes, with strong bookings for this first quarter of 2022.” 

Find out more about Shehryar’s company on the Exquisite Escapes website.

Do you dream of a career in the travel and tourism industry? Or are you fascinated by the fields of hospitality and events management? University College Birmingham offers a wide range of courses within our Department of Hospitality and Tourism – find out more here.

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