Follow the Leader

Tour operator Panda Travel knows the territory

By: By Norman Sklarewitz

Panda Travel Itineraries

The following are Panda Travel USA’s current packages:

• The 10-day Highlights of China and the Giant Pandas tour starts at $2,599, per person, based on double occupancy, including air. The itinerary begins in Chengdu and goes on to Huanglong, Jiuzhaigou, Chengdu and Guangzhou.

• Classic China and the Giant Pandas, a 15-day tour, begins at $3,399 per person, based on double occupancy, including air. The tour starts in Beijing and continues on to Xian, Chengdu and other spots.

• Ideal for foodies, the 10-day China Culinary Tour, starts at $2,699, per person, based on double occupancy, including air. The itinerary includes visits to Chengdu and Guangzhou.

• The 14-day, air-inclusive Splendors of China and Tibet tour starts at $2,899, per person, based on double occupancy. The tour begins in Beijing and continues on to Luoyang, Xian, Lhasa and back to Beijing by train.

• Classic China and Tibet and Grand Yangtze, a 19-day excursion, starts at $4,499, per person, based on double occupancy. Beginning in Beijing, the tour proceeds to Xian, Lhasa, Tibet, the Yangtze River cruise, Guilin and Shanghai.

• The 13-day Wonders of China and the Grand Yangtze tour starts at $3,199, per person, based on double occupancy, including air. It begins in Beijing and continues on to Xian, Guilin, Chongqing for the Yangtze River cruise and ends in Shanghai.

• Grand Yangtze cruise and Tibet is 16 days, starting at $3,399, per person, double occupancy, including air. The program begins in Shanghai and includes Xian, Lhasa, Tibet, Chongqing and the Yangtze River cruise before ending in Beijing.

• The Adventure With Everest Base Camp and Tibet tour runs 14 days, priced starting at $3,599, per person, double occupancy, including air. From Chengdu, the program includes Lhasa, Tibet, Tsetang, Shigatse, Mount Everest, Lhasa and on to Beijing.

• According to Wang, agents shouldn’t be concerned about booking any of the Panda Travel tours involving Tibet. He says that the Chinese government’s temporary suspension of tourist travel there was designed to secure the torch route to the Olympics. As of June, Tibet has been officially open to tourism, and officials expect conditions to stay stable, he said.


Panda Travel USA

At the peak of Mount Emei // (c) McPig
At the peak of Mount Emei 

In the opening scene of the Broadway musical and movie, "The Music Man," the traveling salesmen aboard a train agree that, to be successful, "You got to know the territory."

Hunter Wang may not be familiar with the musical, but he has built his business on a similar philosophy. Wang is CEO of Panda Travel USA, a tour operator established in March 2007 and based in Alhambra, Calif.

Born in the Sichuan Province, Wang has 26 years experience in the travel industry, and essentially, his entire career has involved travel to China. With that background, there’s little question that he does indeed "know the territory."

And Wang believes that both his staff’s and his own expertise is reflected in each of the growing number of tour programs currently available to travel agents to offer their clients. While the itineraries generally include many of the major destinations of interest to American visitors, there is an emphasis on Western China.

Wang points out that agents can offer clients who have already been to China new sights and experiences in that region of the country.

"Western China Tours covers 12 Chinese provinces, including Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Guangxi, Xinjiang, Tibet and Shaanxi," said Wang. "There are over 30 world-class tour destinations in China that have been confirmed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites and more than two-thirds of them are in Western China."

Popular Western China destinations and attractions include the ancient Silk Road, the exotic new Tibet train, Potala Palace, Xinjiang, Xian’s Terra Cotta Warriors, Sichuan’s giant panda sanctuaries, Jiuzhaigou Valley, Huanglong, Mount Emei, Leshan Giant Buddha, Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Irrigation System, the Three Gorges, Guilin, Kunming’s Stone Forest, Li River and the Dazu Rock Carvings, among others.

Despite its emphasis on tours to Western China, Panda Travel USA experienced no serious impact from the recent devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan Province.

"The epicenter of the earthquake was in Wenchuan County which is hundreds of kilometers from the region’s two major tourist cities — Chengdu and Chongqing," said Wang. "As a result, our Yangtze River cruises out of Chongqing and all other tours operated on schedule."

As expected, some travel agents and others have called the company to ask about the status of upcoming tours but also to express concern about going to China while reconstruction efforts are taking place. In response, Wang said that because that area is still recuperating, tourism is especially important.

"By going to China, visitors demonstrate their support of the people and the government’s efforts to help them recover," he said. "Their presence is a show of solidarity. In a way, the visitor psychologically becomes a part of the recovery effort."

Currently, several tours are available for booking, with prices ranging from $2,599 to $4,499. While Wang prefers not to make specific price comparisons with competitors, he says that clients booking with Panda Travel USA get better value for the same price.

"We use the same ground operators as the more expensive tour operators but, because we know our way around China, we get better prices," he said.

And these savings are passed along to your clients.

"In today’s economy, pricing is more important than ever," Wang said. "That’s another reason Panda Travel USA pays such close attention to detail in order to deliver the best possible experience for an agency’s clients at the best price. Our clients get a better product and better service at the same or lower price than what others charge."

Agents with clients wanting customized itineraries can be easily accommodated by Panda Travel USA, Wang promised.

"The customer can set his or her own schedule and express their own wishes, and we will customize the tour," said Wang.

There are no group size requirements, either.

"We will prepare a special itinerary just for one person," he said.