Here at WildChina, we’ve been pioneering sustainable travel in China for the last 20 years. Our mission remains the same as it did when we first started: to connect people through travel and to change the Chinese travel industry for the better. Part of that mission is about sharing the real stories of people in China – sharing the lives and reality of the humans that make this country so beautiful.
And this week, we’re making it even more personal to us: we’re going behind the scenes with our Corporate Services team to show you what it takes to create exceptional events.
Often when we talk to our friends and family about working in travel, they ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaah’ about the incredible opportunities to get out on the road. We all joined WildChina because we love to travel and we love sharing China with the world. But the reality of creating award-winning journeys isn’t always fun and games. Especially for our Corporate Services team, along with the planning and organization of large-scale events comes long hours preparing every detail for our guests, from table settings to hand-wrapped gifts. But, at the end of the day, it’s always worth it. We love what we do, and we wouldn’t change any part of the job.
Read on to hear just a few anecdotes from our brilliant Corporate team on what it’s like on the road.
MJ: People who don’t eat lamb stay in Xinjiang for a month
The initial request from our guest was very short: “We want to do a team-building activity in Xinjiang. 600 people, 3-4 days.”
The challenge, naturally, was huge. Xinjiang is both vast and remote. There was a large number of participants, not to mention a considerable proportion of foreigners among the invited guests. The local tourism facilities and services were still some development away from bigger cities in China. So the question became: How do we ensure WildChina’s consistently high standards with this limited infrastructure?
Well, to ensure flawless execution, three of us from WildChina’s Beijing office were stationed directly in Xinjiang for a month.
In order to arrange the most authentic immersive experience, we talked to nearly every handicraft shop in the old city, communicated and coordinated with each owner, and unearthed the rich heritage of the old city in the most interesting way. Along the remains of the ancient Silk Road, we built a carnival campground to host the Amazing Race team-building exercise and set up a street party and dinner in the shadows of Kashgar’s old town’s wall.
Afterward, as the project manager, I was asked how we were able to pull it off:
- The most important thing is our communication with locals. The government and local institutions attached great importance to the event, and our partners, especially the security measures, gave us a lot of support and help. We were very grateful for them.
- The second is WildChina’s can-do spirit for the project, from unfeasible to feasible. The ancient city and a city built from the desert reflect the height of WildChina. Since then, our internal requirements have been that every activity should be close to or even exceed this height.
- Finally, 20% of the activity depends on writing and 80% depends on execution. We require local partners to meet WildChina’s service standards, breakthrough cultural differences, and train to meet our consistent service standards. Additionally, in order to ensure first-class service and response speed to our customers, we fly colleagues in from various offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen to that they are at the scene to be responsible. It’s a ‘roll up your sleeves and do it yourself’ kind of thing. Hard work is indeed hard, but it is also incredibly satisfying to sleep 3 or 4 hours a day knowing you’re creating something very special.
And speaking of the results achieved… It’s a sensation in Kashgar. Isn’t it a hot search online? Just kidding. In fact, for WildChina, seeing the photos of made everyone feel that this was a team-building event that made history. Increased pride and satisfaction, and even friends outside the circle discussing the event, was the best feedback for us.
Dai Ziying: 380 kilometers in 2 days
We had two days for the pre-event inspection, and over 380 kilometers to drive along the Qinghai Lake. Normal tourist travel is a matter of choosing what you like to see, but we need to do everything. Only by examining all the attractions, hotels, restaurants, and event venues along the way can we make the best judgment for our clients’ needs.
So, we start the day by leaving the hotel every morning at 8 am and getting back at 10:30 to 11 pm. It’s hard on the road.
For every inquiry received by WildChina, if it is a new route that we have not done, it is crucial that we go out to investigate. Sometimes we go by ourselves, and sometimes we accompany our clients. All too often, venues or attractions “spoof” the reality, so we have to see everything to make sure we’re giving the most sincere recommendations to our customers.
When we go out to inspect places, we want to get as much information as possible. Say we have a plan in our minds already to do A, but when we’re actually out on the road and seeing things for ourselves, we find that B and C are also very suitable. We constantly compare and choose to see which is the best combination. Because WildChina always wants to do something in unexpected places, it is necessary to see whether there are electricity and water supplies, we need to know where the toilets are located and what their conditions are. We need to determine how far the closest roads, train stations, and airports are, and whether there are other entertainment itineraries that can be connected in series.
On the road, there is also a sense of psychological pressure, to do better than previous expectations and to constantly think about solutions. The psychological and design challenges are great. This is often particularly obvious when working directly with customers. If a customer is dissatisfied with one place, you will immediately be asked, “is there any alternative?” Long driving distances, poor road conditions, and unsatisfactory restaurants may cause the entire route to be replaced, so we are constantly creating new strategies to see new places every day.
Finally, one of the challenges of being on the road is that we are always thinking about 2-3 projects at once. Since WildChina works all over the country, we need to constantly update our own information databases. We need to note down the best restaurants, the nicest boutique hotels. Chinese customers often ask for niche destinations, so we take our time to see if we want to verify whether these places are suitable for corporate customer activities. At the end of last year, I went to Chongqing, Kunming, Yunnan, Puzhehei, Chengjiang, Jianshui, Mengzi, Yuanyang, Ningxia Zhongwei and more. It’s incredible, but it’s tough!
Aki: Brainstorming on dozens of Post-It notes
Ask any of the team and they’ll tell you one thing about me: I use a lot of Post-It notes.
The success of our programs all comes from the careful planning we do before the trip. At WildChina, we’re very confident about the products we design because we know how much time and thought we put into each project. Even the proposal stage of our programs may be several times that of other companies.
Sometimes I feel that many of the so-called customized services on the market are actually pseudo-customized. The customer asks you for a Yunnan plan. Did you put together an itinerary to customize it? No.
At WildChina, customers ask us a question and often we ask ten more back. Because we need to understand the business purpose, background, and expected effect of the client doing this activity. What are the characteristics of the customer population? What pain points did the previous activities have not solved? What are the expectations of the boss, and what are the expectations of the employees? We need to find out the difficulties of customers and find out the characteristics of the industries described by customers in order to customize the most suitable solution.
Many of our travel ideas are based on insights from customers. With empathy, you can see the problem from the customer’s perspective and you learn so much more.
The team is definitely most active and committed when we’re brainstorming and evaluating each plan. We constantly throw out new ideas, screen and eliminate them one by one, and finally, we’re left the most worthy of ideas to investigate and experiment with.
Our rule is that if an idea for an event doesn’t “WOW” us first, then it is not worth recommending to our clients.
Of course, our ideas cannot be separated from local characteristics. Travel is our theme, and the products we design must show the local culture to the greatest extent, so that our guests, just like with all WildChina journeys, experience the real China.
Jane: A leader who studied finance
I graduated from Shanghai New York University with a major in finance. At that time, the main direction of job hunting was also finance and consulting. One night, I was feeling very tired and depressed, so I closed myself in a classroom and thought: If I don’t consider income and social status, what do I want to do the most?
I wrote my three most-wanted industries on the blackboard: travel, education, and elderly care.
In essence, these three industries are not the same as their majors, and they prefer industries that deal with people. The number one was definitely travel.
Over the years, travel has changed me a lot. In my junior high school and high school, I participated in two study tours, one to the UK and one to the US. When we first landed in the UK, we lived at Eton College, and it was very late and cold. A bus came to pick us up, the driver a very kind old man. A few weeks later after class, we learned that this elderly bus driver was actually the mayor of Eton. It was the town mayor who drove the bus to pick us up in the cold wind that night, and as the town mayor, he received no remuneration. He was serving his town for free.
This, as well as experiences during my later study tours in the United States, greatly touched me. These actually changed my life direction and changed many of my choices. I always remember that it all started with travel and that led to me hoping that I could also be someone who could create such life-changing moments for others. I wanted to allow others to also see the wider world through travel and therefore change themselves.
When I’m on the road and tired, I think about these original intentions of mine and it makes it all worth it.
I’ve been with WildChina for two years now, and I hope to continue to create these moments for people. I want to design a product that puts people in the center of their travels alongside other people.
I like to show the true local culture, which I believe comes from meeting local people. I want to show people that Tibetans do not ride to school and that the Mongols do not test archery. Our similarities are far more than we imagined.
All: When customers say thank you
When we all joined WildChina, we were asked: “At work, what makes you feel most accomplished?”
And anyone that ends up joining WildChina usually answers: “When I created something for a client and the other person said thank you.”
This job is hard. Generally, we work almost every day from 7am to 11pm. But we love what we do because what makes us happy is our sense of accomplishment after successfully completing a big project, alongside the sincere feedback from our guests.
For us, it’s about when the customer said, at a 500-person dinner, this was the best outing he’s been to in 20 years. Or when another client invited our staff to the stage at the end of the event and thanked us on behalf of all the staff. Regardless of the twists and turns in the preparation process, those “thank you”s make everything worth it.