InnoKOL | Alex Wang: To Live A Life with Stories to Tell

2020/05/08 Innoverview Read

On May 8th(UTC+8), innoverview had a fascinating  conversation with Mr.Alex Wang, the Director of Zanadu, and Managing Director of Yidu Travel,talking about his  unique experience in media and entertainment and deep insights on the development trends of online travel.

Jokia: How would you describe yourself in three words? What’s your motto?


Three words to describe myself, not what I do: multicultural,Balanced ,Idealist

My motto: to live a life with stories to tell

Jokia: Can you please share more about your educational and professional background? And we’d love to hear what brought you to tourism.


I grow up in Beijing and moved to the US in high school. Joined Americorp after high school and did a year community service before went to a liberal arts college called Skidmore College. At college, I studied Management and Studio Art. Returned to China after getting my undergraduate degree and started my career in TV commercial production/advertising industry mostly as a producer. For the most part of my career, I usually involved myself on the business and management side of creative industry, hence the word “balanced”in self-description.


I got into tourism when a former colleague and friend from MTV asked me to join him launching Zanadu. At the time, all founding partners like to travel but kind passed our backpacking days. We began to look for more substance and better quality in our hotel stay experiences while traveling. We found China was lacking both the understanding and access to world’s finest boutique and luxury hotels. On the other hand, we believed there were a lot desire for better experiences. So, we started Zanadu as a boutique hotel/travel media and service platform. Although most of us had experiences in media and advertising industry, we did not want to build a pure media company. We want to enable users to book not just find information and curations.  

Jokia: One of the most exciting pages of your biography is your 10-year adventure in senior management positions with DMG, MTV China, Shanghai Media Group and Viva Mobile Media. From your point of view, what are the trends shaping the future of media and entertainment in China?


The biggest and most consistent trend I have witnessed in this field is lowering barrier to content creation and distribution, increasing importance of network effect, all driven by technical advancement. When started in the industry, content creation and distribution were mostly controlled by state owned and commercial organizations. At the time, While I was working at MTV, to tape a show that would be broadcasted on one Channel, I had to use materials created by MTV’s offices from different parts of the world, and go through checkpoint maned by paramilitary. Now, a 18 years old somewhere can have a livecast show on multiple platforms. Definition of content creator or media are less clear now, anyone or any group can create contents and share them. You don’t need to be a media company to be in media business anymore. At Zanadu, our core business is travel, but we create large amount of contents and often better known as a media company. Social medias and network effect they unlashed changed media and entertainment landscape so completely and will keep changing it. In China, it also coming down to how you monetize contents and how government regulates it. 

Jokia:  As the Co-founder of Zanadu which is the China’s premier online high-end travel media and service platform, could you share some successful and failure marketing/operation cases impressed you most? What are the internal and external reasons? Could you give some advices to improve ROI of marketing/operation for OTA?


Zanadu is an online business but also a high-end business. Therefore, it creates a unique challenge that many online marketing/operation methods would not translate. You can’t buy your way to growth and profitability with a low frequency, low margin, but high unit price product category such as luxury travel. We found content marketing always works best for us. We are good at creating contents. Travel, especially luxury travel, provides fertile ground for interesting contents as well. People consume travel content at much higher frequency than doing actual travel. 


Another method that worked well for us is to create special “Event Travel” products that works both as marketing and product.  Example for that is the “Burningman Project”we created with a leading venture capital firm. We took a group of startup founders, CEOs and investors to yearly Burningman Festival at Blackrock desert in Nevada. It costed us the first year as there were a lot of learning in running a large camp at Burningman. The marketing it generated was very good, because it influenced just right target audiences for our product. We actually made decent profit the second time doing it. We created a few smaller event travel products that also worked quite well, like Micheline Themed food festival in Sanya. The key to this method is that you have to understand your user base and create or bring them to the right kind of events. We had a failure with an Electric music festival in Phuket that we created with an entertainment company. That company brought in some really great DJs from around the world and we designed a very good travel product for the three days event. The problem was that the entertainment company’s users could not afford the trip, and our users just not that into Electric music. In the end, we could not sell nearly enough to cover our cost, and did not gain much in road in both user groups for either company.  

Jokia: We’ve noticed that Zanadu reveals its first VR travel experience space in 2016.How do you think emerging technologies are moving the tourism industry forward? 


I strongly believe that technology will enable a type of travel experience that does not require people to physically travel to a destination but still able to experiencing it. VR is the closest thing that will give you such experience. However, the current level of technology both in software and hardware, network speed, and adaptation rate are not there yet. With 5G network rolling out around the world and other advances we will get there. The Covid-19 will actually affect this development positively. I have no doubt that we can get there in not too distant future, but it will not be a passive kind experience. Using VR google to watch a travel film will not be enough. It has to be networked, so people can enjoy the experience together, and it should allow real time reviewing. Watching first ray of sunshine leap out pacific with a friend or lover afar in real time is completely different and superior experience than watching a scene shot on VR camera.

Jokia: Many countries’ economic 'backbone’ of tourism faces hardship from coronavirus, what’s your short-term goal and operation strategy to re-boot the positive growth of high-end outbound travel business for YIDU Travel and Zanadu? 


Coronavirus’s impact on world travel industry is so complete and devastating. There are different projections for recovery time frame. Many estimating 12-18 months for many destinations. Therefore, most pressing issue is a matter of survival. Large number of travel companies will not survive this. Travel is not a high margin business, few companies have the cash reserve to withstand a prolonged heavy downturn. Many people will leave the industry perhaps never to return. For Yidu and Zanadu, we are no exception. We have significantly reduced our operating cost while preserve our core capabilities and competencies. China domestic travel is recovering and we will focus on that for the time being. We are also looking for other revenue stream to compensate. Not an easy road, but we need to keep our heads down and hopes up. I still believe in the future of the industry. I am an idealist after all.