Doug Ma didn’t expect to be an entrepreneur. After graduating in 2003 with a degree in finance, Ma did the logical thing and headed to New York to work on Wall Street. But after more than five years of grueling days, most recently as a commodity trader at Deutsche Bank, Ma was ready for a change.
As China prepared for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Ma prepared to move there, anxious to learn more about a country that felt frothy with possibility.
A natural traveler, Ma wandered around China and Southeast Asia for six months before settling in Beijing. His travels helped crystallize an idea for a new business: a touring company that offered young explorers like himself an alternative to the “cattlelike” experience offered by Chinese-run tours. The price would lie somewhere between the budget, eco-driven vacation that involves hostels and tents, and the luxury trip that is out of reach for most 18- to 35-year-olds, the company’s target demographic. He partnered with Joanne Huang, BBA ’02, to found Tour-ING (www.tour-ing.com) in 2008.
“We wanted something a little different—a sense of adventure, but still staying in a nice hotel,” Ma says. “We’re American, but we live in China, so we know what people want to eat, where
people want to go.”
As an “ABC,” (American-born Chinese—Ma’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan and raised their family in Houston), Ma is comfortable bridging cultures. He knows what American tourists are interested in, and he speaks Mandarin fluently and understands subtle cultural mores.
“It really helps to have a Chinese face here,” Ma acknowledges. “They know I speak the language, and my grandparents were from Shanghai—it helps being able to say my lineage is from here.”
Even with those roots, doing business in China as an American is not easy. Companies of all sizes, from Intel and Google down to two-person shops like Tour-ING, find that having a Chinese partner (whether formal or informal) is more of a necessity than a luxury.
“The biggest piece for us has been finding a local contact who meets our standards and has
experience with the travel industry domestically in China,” Ma says. “That’s the hardest part of doing business for any company starting in China, no matter what size you are. Coming in here and having a local partner show you the ropes and trusting them—it’s just a different kind of culture here. Once we found that, the rest kind of fell into place.”
Ma and Huang have developed two distinct itineraries to appeal to travelers wanting a sense of China. “Some people come here and want to shop, and others want to get out of the cities,” Ma says. “We’re accommodating both kinds of travelers.”
Highlights, a 10-day tour, covers major sites in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Xian. The 12-day Explorer tour takes a more outdoorsy approach, visiting Shanghai, Guilin, Xian, Flower Mountain and Beijing, with lots of opportunities for bike-riding, rock-climbing and hiking.
For Ma, who moved to Shanghai in February, Tour-ING has been more than just an opportunity to start a business in an area that interests him. It’s allowed him to explore his ancestral
homeland and help visitors experience a country in the midst of historic change.
“It’s a very interesting time to be here,” Ma says, “to see it all in person and see how this country is changing. If you have an entrepreneurial idea, this is the place to be.”
Top 10 Things to Do at the Shanghai World Expo
The Shanghai World Expo, a world’s fair that draws millions of visitors, opened May 1 and runs through Oct. 31, 2010. Doug Ma shares his top 10 recommendations for getting the most from Shanghai’s international shindig.
1. Wear comfortable shoes.
There are a total of 192 countries participating in an area that covers more than 3.3 square
miles. That’s a lot of walking.
2. Make reservations beforehand and plan accordingly.
As a ticket holder, you are allowed to make one reservation online or at any of the reservation
kiosks on site. For some of the more popular pavilions, the wait can take up to two hours.
3. Ride the ski lift at the Swiss pavilion.
The Swiss have built a ski lift on top of their pavilion and it’s free to everyone who visits.
4. Collect passport stamps.
If you buy an official World Expo passport at any souvenir store inside, you can have your passport stamped after every pavilion you visit.
5. Get married at the French pavilion.
The French pavilion has free daily wedding ceremonies for those who are interested and show up in wedding attire.
6. Only Expo-themed taxis are allowed on site.
If you plan to take a taxi to the Expo, keep in mind that only Expo-themed taxis are allowed on site. There are a total of 5,000 of them in Shanghai.
7. Eat, eat and eat.
Almost every pavilion will be showcasing their country’s respective foods. The Spanish pavilion
showcases gourmet chefs from around the world with a total of 49 Michelin stars.
8. Stay in Pudong.
If you are planning your visit around the World Expo, stay in Pudong, which is on the eastern side of the Huangpu river. The majority of the pavilions and exhibits are located in Pudong.
9. See the “Little Mermaid” at the Danish pavilion.
In case you never make it to Copenhagen, head to the Danish pavilion to see the world famous “Little Mermaid” statue that has been airlifted and put on exhibit just for the Expo.
10. Be prepared for the crowd.
Shanghai and the Expo are expecting 70 million visitors this summer. That’s an average of more than 380,000 people a day, so be prepared!
Photos courtesy of Doug Ma.