Travel Talk: Wendy Wu, Wendy Wu Tours

Stuart Forster talks to Wendy Wu, Founder of Wendy Wu Tours, about group tours to China and the emergence of Zhangjiajie as a destination.

How did you get into operating tours?

I love travel so I think it’s by fate and serendipity. I was a petroleum chemist then I worked for American Express. By chance I got into travel – I love it so much. It then became my career.

What was the first tour that you ever operated?

It was a tour called China Highlights in the 1990s. At that time it was eight ancient cities in 28 days for a fabulous price. So we became known as a specialist tour operator.

What do group tours offer travellers interested in visiting China?

Because of the language barrier and cultural differences, including different types of food, it can be quite difficult for people to travel by themselves.

It is much easier to travel with a fully inclusive specialist tour operator like us because everything is taken care of – every step of the way. We look after everything from the visa to the flights, including guides, to ensure that holidays are smooth. 

Research shows that for backpacking, Russia and China are the hardest countries in the world for people to travel by themselves. A group tour operator makes it so much easier. If people do want to travel by themselves we offer tailor-made trips for individuals and their families.

Why have you chosen to now include Zhangjiajie and the surrounding region of Hunan province on tours?

This area is very special. As the leading tour operator to China in the UK, I carefully look at the whole country. 

This area has many special features: it has a combination of nature, such as Baofeng Lake and the mountain peaks in Zhangziajie National Forest Park, together with culture in the form of wonderful shows. 

There are also manmade marvels, such as the Tianmen Mountain cable car – the longest in China – and the world’s highest glass bridge over the Zhangziajie Grand Canyon, which has bungee jumping and a zip line. 

Together, you have a combination of city, country, nature, ancient, modern and futuristic: that’s magical. Clients can experience lovely country walks and warm hospitality. That’s why I brought 85 travel agents to experience it on the 2024 Wendy Wu Tours China Mega Fam.

SF Wendy Wu 003
Wendy Wu at the entrance to Suoxi Valley Natural Reserve in the Wulingyuan District of Zhangjiajie, China, during the Wendy Wu China Mega Fam 2024.

Generally, how is the demand for trips to China?

Pre-COVID, China was booming and it’s a huge sector for our company. For three years, it was completely locked down: China was the first country to lock down and the last one to open. 

It re-opened on the 15th of March [2023]. As soon as it opened, our team came here to check it out for travel agents and customers, to see if it was completely safe and had returned to normal. We were so happy to find everything still here and the people warmer than ever before.

Our recovery is good. Nonetheless, tours to China are still not at the level of 2019.

What do you say to people who have previously visited China? 

China has changed quite a lot. If people have been to China before, then it’s time to come again. 

Changsha and Zhangjiajie are wonderful places for both first or second-time visits to China and the majority of people have not been here, though for Wendy Wu Tours Zhangjiajie is not a new destination. We have featured Zhangjiajie in one of our tours, Dreams of Nature, since 1996. 

I came here in 1993, when there were no roads, and in 1996 started to bring tours here. Our customers were the first ones to visit this area as Western tourists.

The area has been developed a lot, so now we’re are adding many more programmes.

What China training do you recommend to travel agents?

First and foremost, have a look at our website because we have an agent training portal which has loads of details. Look at our brochures and talk with our Business Development Managers (BDMs) because we hold regular training sessions. We even organise specialist training with individual branches.

We have a fantastic trade team looking after all the travel agents in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. In each region, we have different BDMs. Their job is to train agents about this wonderful destination, so travel agents can service their customers better, offer the best tours and give expert advice.

How do you expect China to develop as a market for travel? 

Right now, I think the market is damaged by the politics. But I want all agents to know how much enjoyment visitors to China can have, how warm and lovely the Chinese people are. The natural wonders like the mountains and lakes are out of this world and feature as a backdrop in the film Avatar

The warm hearts of local people make trips to China unforgettable. This makes it very special for customers.

Is there anything else that you would like to say?

Selling China is really easy if you work closely with Wendy Wu Tours because we have been named best specialist tour operator for the past 14 years in the UK. 

Our BDMs are passionate and specialise in the region. Their passion and their job is to look after travel agents and to make things easy – so utilise us. Make yourself an expert and then selling China is easy – so many agents have reaped huge rewards. Ride with us on this tide.