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Mei Zhang Shares Her Passion for Her Native Country
January 23, 2017
Mei’s travel company WildChina often takes travelers off the beaten track. She doesn't want her clients to just see the sights – she wants them to discover the soul of the place. 

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When she was a teenager, Mei Zhang (HKO 95-99) couldn't wait to escape her native province of Yunnan, on China's southernmost borders, and experience the outside world. After an MBA at Harvard Business School and several years at McKinsey, she returned home. With fresh eyes.

Her discovery led her to found the travel company WildChina, named one of Fast Company's "Most Innovative Companies of 2014" – an honor shared with Google, Netflix and Twitter. Mei herself has appeared on Condé Nast Traveler's list of Top Travel Specialists every year since 2010.

WildChina offers personalized luxury trips to locations that run-of-the-mill travelers might miss. Its services include private tours, small group tours, educational tours – the company was nominated as "Best Education Abroad Provider" in the Global Youth Travel Awards in 2016 – and events for companies. 

An avid traveler herself, Mei's journeys have led her to discover cultures around the globe.

"When people first begin to travel they tend to collect destinations, to go to as many places as they can. Sort of like collecting stamps," says Mei. "But eventually travel becomes more than getting a selfie at the Great Wall or the Eiffel Tower."

"I always want to feel soul of the place, the people," she says. "So I thought maybe I can take people on a journey like I do when I plan a trip."

Despite their different languages and cultures, people all over the world have one thing in common, says Mei: They eat. Food can open the door to local people and their stories, allowing you to experience local lifestyles – as Mei discusses in her recent book “Travels Through Dali with a Leg of Ham,” a culinary journey through her native region.

"When you go back to a place, whether it's home or another place that you have loved, it's a chance to look at it with new eyes," she says. Of course, Yunnan looks very today from how it did in Mei's childhood, with its modern highways and high-rise residential buildings. But the smells and tastes have remained the same, she says.

Mei believes that sometimes you need to leave the place you are from in order to fully appreciate it. She quotes a Chinese saying: "When you are actually living in the mountain, you can't really see the beauty of the mountain. But when you step away you see the grandness."

WildChina is dedicated to providing travelers with a richer experience of China. The company offers "distinctive, ecologically sensitive journeys to all corners of China." Popular destinations include Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi'an. 

In Mei's own words, the company's goal is to provide "the sort of learning or discovery that travel should."

Learning and discovery also lie at the heart of Mei's entrepreneurial approach. At the company's headquarters she has created an open environment that seeks to nurture employees' creativity. That includes, for example, offering annual travel subsidies to all staff who stay with the firm for at least three years.

Mei believes in the power of travel to transform, inspire and bring people closer together. To judge by the industry accolades she is collecting, she has clearly found a successful way to achieve this goal.
 
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