Seven years ago, Miller Xu and his business and life partner, Mariane Thuillier, started M2adventure out of their mutual love for hiking and the great outdoors. Over time, they built up their Shanghai-based travel community to include trips all across Asia. As a result of COVID, 2020 saw some major changes in the way the company operates, but through pivoting and keeping their activities fresh and relevant, they have overcome major obstacles and continued on their growth trajectory.
How and when did M2adventure get started?
About seven years ago, Mariane [my business partner and now wife] and I met on a hiking trip in China. We realized how much we both love hiking and being in the outdoors, so we soon started organizing our own hiking trips for fun. We also started dating, and eventually got married last year. At that time, the trips we organized were just for us and our friends, but eventually more new people joined in and our hobby became M2adventure.
At the very beginning, Mariane and I would lead almost all of the trips, at the end of the trips people would always thank us, but instead of saying “Thank you Miller and Mariane”, they would often say “thanks M&M or M2!” So it was only natural for us to choose this name for our company.
How does M2 differentiate itself from other travel and tour companies?
M2adventure is more a traveling community than a travel agency. We are famous for our unique outdoor trip products (EBC hike, Yellow Mountain, West Sea Valley hike, etc) that take participants to places that no other hiking or travel agencies are taking guests.
But what really differentiates us is our team leaders. (We call them ‘team leaders’ because they are so much more than just everyday ‘guides’). They are friendly, passionate and full of energy. Our kind of trips naturally attract a fun bunch of people who, just like Mariane and me, are young-spirited, sporty, looking for adventures and always ready to have a laugh. As they say, your vibe attracts you tribe!
What is M2’s main mission?
Our motto is: “Keep Your Life Adventurous!” We always encourage people to try new things, discover hidden or off the beaten path places and meet new people. We also believe and support sustainable travel, by protecting the local environment where we travel to, and giving back more to the local communities through volunteer work and donations.
How did M2 overcome challenges associated with COVID and restricted travel?
We overcame this challenge by being more resilient. We waited patiently for Shanghai and all of China to be safe to travel again. For the first couple of months of the pandemic we didn’t organize any trips at all, but we still continued to work, writing articles for our WeChat to engage with our audience and updating people about the COVID situation.
Over time, we built stronger relationships with all local agencies and governments to monitor the pandemic situation and regulate our actions accordingly to figure out the best and safest destinations. We also stuck together with other travel agencies and organized regular meetups to discuss our challenges and thoughts. During these difficult times, we felt like it was important to build a strong network and support each other.
Are there any tours that can’t be done because of COVID?
Yes, for sure. Tibet is one example. At the beginning of COVID (end of January 2020), Tibet closed its borders and still hasn’t reopened to foreigners. But there is some promising news coming out of the area, and we hope to reopen our Tibet trips as early as April of this year. In general, we monitor the COVID situation for all our trips on a daily basis, and we always cancel or don’t plan trips in regions that are risky.
How did M2 have to evolve as a company as a result of COVID? Did COVID open up any new doors for the company that weren’t expected?
We had to pivot from a pure outdoor hiking/activity-focused organization to a more all-around travel company in order to survive this challenging environment. We designed new trips and tried new ways to communicate with our community through photos, videos and live stream. We learned and grew a lot as a company from this experience, and it has been quite a rewarding process.
We created new trips based on what was possible rather than what we normally schedule. When we couldn’t leave Shanghai, we had to be more creative and develop fun local activities-based trips, such as biking, horseback riding, forest day walks, etc. within Shanghai.
Later on, since Tibet (one of our best sellers) was not reopening, we had to explore new horizons and started doing Silk Road trips within China. We quickly built up an expertise in that area, and we are now among the top three tour companies in Shanghai for organizing Silk Road trips.
Have you had any ethical qualms associated with working for a company that promotes travel during a time when some view travel as selfish and unsafe?
In general, if people want to travel, they will travel – with or without us. We have a strong monitoring system and local network to ensure we provide trips in low risk areas, without risk of quarantine or change of QR code colors. We also never hesitate to cancel trips and refund full deposits to our clients if the situation changes and there are any risks or COVID cases.
How has the travel industry in Shanghai and China changed in the last year? Has it fully recovered from COVID?
The travel industry has changed massively. Inbound and outbound travel are still completely stopped and probably will be for some time to come. As for local travel, it is much more challenging, especially with foreign travelers. The amount of work is higher as the travel regulations and requirements change so often!
Another major change is that after being “stuck” in China for a year, people have been to most of the “famous” places in China, so this year people will be looking to discover more hidden spots to travel. This is great because it gives more attention to more remote yet equally beautiful and unique destinations across China that people might have overlooked otherwise.
How does M2 ensure its guests remain safe on trips?
It all starts before the trip has begun by making sure the places we are going to are safe. That requires a constant effort to keep up to date with COVID cases and all the local regulations. Then, of course, there is the reminder to all participants of the basic health and safety rules (wear a mask, wash your hands, etc.) as well as requiring a green QR code and, for some trips, a COVID test.
What are you most excited for in the upcoming year in regards to changes and developments at M2?
We are most excited for the return of the Tibet Everest base camp hikes and new trip development in regions like Xinjiang, Guizhou and Inner Mongolia. We are also slowly building up a family-oriented line of trips.
What does the future look like for M2 and how will it continue to grow in the next five years?
We aim to keep our passion for traveling at a constant high, and we continue to bring new adventures so that guests (and us!) can discover more beautiful places in China and try new, fun activities. Five years from now, we are hoping to become the biggest international outdoor travel community in all of Asia.
Learn more about M2adventure by scanning the QR code and following them on WeChat:
[All images courtesy of M2Adventure]