The life of Wendy Wu is an intriguing story. Born in Tibet, she now owns and heads a global travel company that takes travellers from three continents to her native China and beyond to Japan, Vietnam and India to name just a few. Because of her intimate knowledge of her home country, she is able to take clients deeper into China than others, and she has rapidly moved to the top of her field. She first started operating tours in Australia 20 years ago. Within a few years she became the highest producing operator in the market. A few years later she opened an office in the UK, and in a few more years she had risen to the top of that market. In late 2010, she opened Wendy Wu Tours in the US and rapidly began to take her place at the forefront of the American market.
Improbable as was her rise from the frontiers of China to the head of a global travel company, looking back on her trajectory it seems almost preordained. She was born under a lucky star. She always felt she was destined for great things.
Wendy travelled almost from birth and experienced many contrasting environments in China while growing up. Her parents, as young, idealistic medical school graduates, had volunteered to help in the developing region of Tibet. Wendy's father was a general practitioner who became the principal administrator of the Peoples' Hospital in Lhasa, Tibet. Tibet was still very undeveloped and not a good place for two busy professionals to raise an infant, so Wendy was sent to stay with her grandparents in Sichuan province, the home of the famous cuisine, Chengdu and the pandas. She lived in Tibet, Shanghai and Jiangsu before attending university in Harbin, Manchuria.
She also took trips with her parents. "When I was a child, travel was frequent to say the least. My parents were always traveling and I got to go with them. Ever since I was born I was traveling all the time. We went on holidays. One of the good things about working in Tibet is that every year and a half they'd get a few months of holiday, so we travelled extensively.
With her parents, Wendy cruised down the Yangtze River from Chongqing through the Three Gorges to Shanghai long before it was on the tourist map. "It was mostly for commuting in those days," says Wendy. "People said it was really worth doing, so my parents took the family."
But it wasn't until she had lived in Australia for a few years and travelled in Australia that she "got the traveling bug," and got the idea of going into the travel business. She saw the country from coast to coast traveling on the Indian Pacific Railroad that travels from Sydney on the Pacific to Perth on the Indian Ocean and then on the Ghan, a train which runs from Adelaide on the south coast of Australia, to Darwin in the north, stopping at Ayers Rock on the way. "Traveling in Australia certainly had a big impact on my choosing tourism as a career. After those two trips I decided, 'Australia is so beautiful I'm going back to China to see all there is to see.'" Wendy did a great deal of research and put together an itinerary that included all the sights in China that she wanted to see. It covered eight cities and included China's most essential sites, but more importantly she included previously unknown, yet fascinating areas and destinations that today are industry standards.
"When I was doing the research I talked with travel professionals about Dazu and the general feeling was that it's not worth going because hardly anybody goes there," says Wendy. "But I went, and I said, 'Wow, this is just fascinating, it must be included!' So I was among the first to include it." Today it's one of China's more popular tourist attractions. "It's amazing," says Wendy. "Everyone who sees it loves it. These kinds of things give you a kick. You get the confirmation that you know what is desirable and what people crave more than other professionals. It confirmed my belief in what I could do."
It was when she was working and attending college in Australia that the idea to start a travel company first came to her. "I wanted to take my boyfriend on a trip to China, but two weeks before we were going to go he got a huge project and couldn't go," she says. She didn't want to go by herself so she put ad in the paper for a traveling companion. She was barraged with calls. It showed her that there was a huge demand for travel to China. She decided to explore the possibility of making travel to China a business.
Wendy approached a travel agency near the university proposing to sell tours to China. She told the manager she would do everything, take the orders herself and pay for the advertising. It was 1993 and the beginning of what was going to become a stellar career in promoting travel to Asia.
1994 – Wendy Wu sends her first group of intrepid travellers to China
1998 – Wendy Wu Tours opens its first office in Sydney, Australia
2001 – Begins selling tours to Vietnam
2004 – Begins selling tours to India
2004 – London office opens
2009 – Launches its famous ‘Solar Eclipse’ tour of China
2009 – Wins Escorted Tour Company of the Year (first industry accolade)
2010 – New York office opens
2012 – Begins selling tours to Japan
2012 – Launches ‘ASIA Inspirations’ tailor-made holidays
2013 – Wins two prestigious awards at the British Travel Awards
2014 – Launches first of a series of exclusive Business Class Upgrade offers
2015 – First departures of ‘Exclusive Collection’ luxury tours
2015 – Launches new active range of ‘Discovery Tours’
2016 – Launches first ever dedicated Japan brochure
2016 – Wins ‘Escorted Tour Operator of the Year’ at the TTG Travel Awards
2016 – Wins ‘Best Long Haul Specialist Operator’ for the 6th year running at the UK Globe Travel Awards
2017 – New website launches with live online booking functionality
2017 – Wendy was inducted into The British Travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame