Tours are not merely a passion project for this former urban planner, who believes he has a business model that answers market needs.
An urban planner by profession, Manuel Wu gave up his government job and started Macau Explorer Cultural Travel in 2014.
At that time, nobody believed the travel agency could survive in what’s regarded as a sunset industry with online travel habits at the fore.
However, Wu felt there was still a market for offline booking of in-depth local cultural tours that deviated from mainstream sightseeing-and-shopping tours.
Wu mused: “What prompted such a career shift was my passion for travel. It was nurtured during my stint with the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau. One of my duties was to receive overseas diplomats or consuls who came to the enclave for exchange. I showed them around the city and observed numerous fast-paced sightseeing tours and hop-on, hop-off coaches in the market, which did not immerse visitors in the local culture.”
He then became determined to walk visitors into Macau’s 400-year history.
Being new to the business, he skilled himself by enrolling in an inbound tour guide course before leaving his full-time job.
He recalled: “I also volunteered to take groups in my leisure time to really feel the pulse of tourism. The experience was rewarding and reinforced my decision to join tourism.”
The company began with two cultural routes before custom-made tours took off in recent years. Today, itineraries cover history, nightlife, the Historic Centre of Macau and gourmet themes.
Apart from leisure, overseas MICE visitors also opt for local experience outside of meetings, leading the company to create tour ideas like DIY Portuguese egg tart classes.
He observed a gap in the market when it comes to one-stop services for both business events, as well as tours that fit with the specific interests, needs and schedules of delegates.
“That’s why many come to us for new ideas when planning overseas exchange or study tours. We do all the sourcing including for (special) requests i.e. incinerator visits and childcare services.”
Wu has kept his head down in the past five years to build the business and a professional team, with special emphasis on tour guides. The company started to break even from last year, and Wu now sees ‘intangible’ services and professionalism as key assets to sustain business.
Wu explained: “It might be very easy to copy our itineraries but not our software like intangible services and professional standards.”