In school, people say a professor can make or break a class. When traveling, we feel the same way about guides. It will not matter that you are visiting a wonder of the world if you have a guide who does not allow you to enjoy the experience. Vacation time is scant and precious, and any moment that is wasted is extremely frustrating. Unfortunately the standard system for guiding in China is not conducive to avoiding these problems.
In China, the majority of guides make most of their money as a percentage of what is purchased by the group they are guiding. For example, if a person goes to buy a replica of a terracotta warrior, the majority of the proceeds from the sale will go to the shop owner but then a small portion will go to the guide. As you can imagine, this scenario causes guides to take their clients to shops where this relationship exists, and also encourages them to take as big a group as they can so they will have a better chance of making more money. Not only are guides uncertain of the income they will make, but they are encouraged to seek out shops where they know they will be paid.
For these reasons, WildChina does not follow the traditional model. Since the inception of WildChina in 2001, we have paid our guides a premium so that they do not go to these stores. WildChina Founder Mei Zhang explains that the system “gives [guides] the dignity of making a decent living without feeling like they are cheating the clients constantly.” When we interview our guides, we are looking for people with warm, vibrant personalities who are eager to show you the secrets of their hometowns. In addition to providing what we feel is a better experience, the best part of our approach is how much the guides we have hired appreciate our model. Chris Cui, a WildChina guide based in Beijing, says that he loves working with WildChina because he believes it is the future of travel. Chris explains that “After people have seen the main attractions, they are interested in going off the beaten path to see the real China. This is what WildChina does. I don’t take travelers where everyone else is going. I take them into the local markets to see the real China, and people always come away more satisfied.” The feedback we have received from those who have used WildChina has been glowing, because visitors believe in our philosophy. When describing their experiences with WildChina guide Bunny, guests have said “[she] was the most personable, helpful, agreeable guide I have ever had. She went out of her way to make sure that all of us saw, did, and had everything we wanted.”
Chris says that when he talks to friends who work with other companies, they tell him that when their clients sit down in a restaurant too often the first question they ask is “We’re in China, where are all the Chinese people?” When you travel in another country, you should feel like you are in another country. A trip should not involve times when you are crammed together with other foreigners– we feel it should involve immersion into a culture where you can walk among its people. WildChina traveler Chuck Neuenschwander hit the nail on the head when he said “By sharing a bit of yourself, you become something more than a tourist there to be fed and watch the Native Show. You interact with [the locals] “as people” and that raises the level of how meaningful this is for everyone.”
If this sounds like an experience you would enjoy come join us this fall. It is the perfect time to see Guizhou’s festivals, take a photography class along the silk road, or if this is your first time to the middle kingdom, take an insiders look at China.
Join us and Experience China Differently.If you have any questions about our guides, or would like to find out more about travel in China, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit for fisherman Michael Deng