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Personal Travel Managers Experience “Panda-monium” on China Famil

The southwest Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Guizhou are not as well known to Western tourists as some other regions of China, but their popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to their rich cultural heritage, impressive scenery and population of pandas. Eleven personal travel managers (PTMs) recently participated in an exclusive TravelManagers famil to the two provinces, which provided them with valuable first-hand insights.

The group were hosted by China’s National Tourism Office and China Travel Service (CTS), with flights provided by Air China. They spent a total of ten days in China, beginning their famil in Sichuan Province’s capital city, Chengdu.

TravelManagers’ Natalie Miller, who is representative for Belmont, NSW, says she loved exploring the Wide and Narrow Alley section of the city – a historic and vibrant shopping area which has undergone considerable restoration work over the past fifteen years.

“There was an array of cafes, restaurants, tea houses and souvenir stores, and it was so pleasant to wander through, watching the local people enjoying themselves in this amazing setting,” she explains.

Lunch is served for TravelManagers’ Chis Van Hoof – the venue is a traditional wooden house in the Miao village of Xijiang

Miller was not the only famil participant to enjoy her time in this ancient city, which has been inhabited for at least four thousand years and is now home to a population of more than ten million: her colleague, PTM Sara Birtwhistle, was also very impressed.

“It’s big and busy and crowded but it all works,” says Birtwhistle, who is TravelManagers’ representative for Scarborough, QLD. “From old buildings to new, everything was exciting to explore, and I felt really safe everywhere we went – even when we went out to Bar Street one night, it was fun and crazy and totally different to anything I’ve experienced before. Chengdu is my new favourite place to visit.”

A major highlight for all the famil participants was their visit to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which is located just ten kilometres from downtown Chengdu. There are fewer than 2,000 of these endearing animals left in the wild, and 70 percent of them are distributed within Sichuan Province. Much of their survival as a species depends upon captive breeding programmes, and the Chengdu Research Base is designed to imitate the bears’ natural habitat to provide them with the best possible environment for breeding and rearing.

The TravelManagers famil group meeting locals from Xijang – the biggest Miao village in the world

(L-R) Back row: Andrew Hallinan, Kirsty Whittaker, Carolyn Burgmann, Emma Rowan-Kelly, Carolyn Johnston; middle row: Chris Van Hoof, Anna Curran; front row: Lyndal Hewitt, Natalie Miller, Sarah Birtwhistle, Sarah Segal

“Giant pandas are a Chinese national treasure,” PTM Emma Rowan Kelly points out. “It is well worth paying extra to join the volunteer program for a chance to meet and feed the pandas up close.”

The famil was Rowan-Kelly’s first visit to China in almost twenty years, and she declares herself amazed at the changes to the country in the intervening years.

“The progress is really impressive,” she explains. “The roads and trains are exceptional, and the cities and towns are clean, unpolluted and modern. I would be very keen to return to see more, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to visit this incredible destination.”

It was the first time in China for TravelManagers’ representative for Annerley, QLD, Chris van Hoof, and he says he was favourably surprised by how much he enjoyed his experience.

Meeting a different kind of local at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

“Everywhere we went, the scenery was amazing, the cities were clean, the people were friendly, and the food was great,” he reveals. “The famil has given me a useful understanding of the little quirks of the destination – I’m looking forward to sharing all this with my clients so that they really enjoy their time here too.”

From Chengdu, the group flew to Guiyang, which is the capital city of the neighbouring province of Guizhou. Here they ventured beyond the city to visit numerous sites of great natural beauty, including Xiaoqikong National Park and Mt Fanjing.

“At Mt Fanjing we took a twenty-minute, somewhat hairy, winding mountain shuttle up to the start of a twenty-minute cable car, concluding with a final climb of 2,000 steps to the spiritual paradise of the Buddhist temple located on the top of the world,” Miller explains. “It’s a bit of an effort, but once we reached the top, it felt as though we were in an enchanting fairyland!”

Whittaker says although she had previously visited the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, this famil was her first taste of a more rural China, and the experience has enhanced her confidence in selling the destination.

“I do feel I’ve only just scratched the surface of what this incredible country has to offer – there are so many more incredible sights, UNESCO World Heritage areas and different ethnic cultures to explore – I’d love to return again.”

This view is shared by Whittaker’s colleagues, including Birtwhistle, who says she is already planning her next visit.

“I had not expected to love it as I did, but the culture, the people, the natural beauty and every other aspect has left me wanting more – I would return to this region in a heartbeat!”

For more information or to speak to someone confidentially about TravelManagers please contact Suzanne Laister on 1800 019 599.

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