IWTA speaks with Mary Li, Founder and CEO, Atlas

IWTA speaks with Mary Li, Founder and CEO, Atlas


The journey business has a novel capability to interrupt down obstacles, convey folks collectively, and create alternatives for development and discovery. Touring shouldn’t be a privilege or luxurious, however one thing that everybody ought to have entry to. Atlas goals to make journey extra accessible and inexpensive by connecting journey sellers with low-cost airways worldwide by way of superior expertise.

In dialog with the IWTA Committee, Mary Li, Founder and CEO, Atlas shares extra about her transformative journey by way of journey. Going forward from robust Covid instances to construct an inclusive journey expertise firm, that units business benchmarks and paces up a proactive crew.

Q. How did you get began within the journey business? And why the journey business?

A. I didn’t have a traditional journey into the journey business. It was a path I found later in life, nevertheless it has been extremely rewarding. After spending practically, a decade caring for my daughter, I re-entered the workforce in my mid-30s with a China-based journey company, Wingon Journey.

Regardless of having no prior expertise in journey, I noticed this as a chance to study. I used to be intrigued by the journey business due to its complexity and the numerous position it performs in connecting folks worldwide.

As I grew older, I noticed the transformative impression that journey can have. The journey business has a novel capability to interrupt down obstacles, convey folks collectively, and create alternatives for development and discovery. It opens minds, broadens views, and fosters empathy and understanding throughout cultures.

For me, the journey business isn’t nearly enterprise, or my profession; it’s about objective and a strategy to make a constructive distinction on the earth. It’s about utilizing my abilities and experience to make journey extra accessible and inclusive for everybody.

“My mother sells aircraft tickets.” From elementary college to highschool, my daughter would proudly introduce me to her mates like this. In her eyes, I used to be doing essentially the most beneficial job, one which helped many individuals see the world. Whether or not it was in an previous home serving as an workplace area, a cubicle in a industrial constructing, or the high-tech Alibaba campus in Hangzhou, it didn’t matter.

So, why the journey business? As a result of I consider in its energy to vary lives, and I’m dedicated to being part of that change.

Q. Are you able to share a big second out of your private journey that impressed your ardour for journey?

A. As a baby rising up in China within the Seventies, the thought of journey was a international idea to me. Nonetheless, books like Jane Eyre and The Thorn Birds opened my eyes to the world outdoors of my hometown. I used to be fascinated by the huge and thrilling world that lay past my attain and longed for the chance to discover it for myself. My first experiences of journey had been on group bus excursions that took me to numerous procuring facilities throughout Hong Kong, Thailand, and Macau. Though this will not seem to be essentially the most thrilling strategy to journey, to me, every thing was new, unique, and thrilling and I loved each second.

Years have handed since these early travels, and I’ve visited numerous locations and met many individuals alongside the way in which. But, I’m nonetheless in love with journey and its magical energy to vary folks’s lives.

My eldest sister, Ying, retired a number of years in the past after her husband handed away. Throughout one in all my visits residence, she advised me that she had set a aim to journey to 100 international locations in her lifetime. Regardless of having a retirement wage of solely $700 monthly and never understanding any English, she has managed to go to over 40 international locations to this point. I’m all the time moved by her smile and her pleasure for her subsequent journey each time I am going residence. She plans her funds rigorously and goes on a bunch tour each 2-3 months to tick extra international locations off her record. Her newest journey took her to Europe, the place she visited six international locations in a single go.

Her instance jogs my memory that touring shouldn’t be a privilege or luxurious, however one thing that everybody ought to have entry to. It provides me the motivation to go to work each single day.

Q. Are you able to share a difficult challenge you undertook in your journey profession and the way you overcame it?

A. Probably the most difficult challenge is all the time the one I’m engaged on proper now. Immediately, it’s to construct a worldwide, inclusive journey expertise firm that solves business puzzles and makes folks really feel enthusiastic about coming to work each day.

Transferring to Singapore to launch Atlas was a daring resolution, on reflection. I stepped removed from my consolation zone and commenced from scratch, slowly constructing my crew and clarifying our imaginative and prescient for the corporate. We launched Atlas in September 2019, only a few months earlier than the worldwide journey business got here to a halt and airplanes had been grounded because of Covid 19. However every hurdle has pushed us to develop and adapt in distinctive methods. For instance, the pandemic gave us time to concentrate on constructing a stable, scalable expertise platform that grew to become the inspiration of what we provide now.

One of many largest challenges to this point was to pursue our imaginative and prescient of connecting the world in a real, real approach. We all know that to construct a very international enterprise that brings worth to everybody on the earth, we should always begin from the within out – with our crew.

Our crew is made up of individuals from completely different international locations with numerous backgrounds and languages. We purpose to create a ‘ONE TEAM tradition’ the place everybody can thrive and be themselves with out being pressured to adapt to any specific approach of doing issues.

Constructing a very multicultural crew and merging completely different cultures isn’t straightforward. It takes dedication, persistence and respect to use this strategy to follow. Doing this nicely requires deep perception into the cultures, traditions and mindsets of various folks and locations. Like each group that ever tried it, we face challenges – distant working limitations, cultural misunderstandings and assumptions, and language obstacles.

And it’s mutual belief that paves the way in which for understanding and openness. We attempt to create an setting the place everybody has a voice and feels relaxed talking up. In spite of everything, innovation solely thrives in a tradition of variety and inclusion, and we will’t clear up some massive business issues with out each one in all us having a voice.

Q. How has working in journey or a profession in journey broadened your understanding of various cultures and traditions?

A. In twenty years within the journey business, I’ve despatched myself world wide numerous instances. Throughout these journeys, I skilled many fantastic and touching moments that made me perceive and respect the similarities and variations all of us share.

My most particular expertise of touring was once I went on a two-year solo journey journey, after leaving a high-profile position at Alibaba Group.

This expertise opened my eyes to the sweetness and variety of our world. It taught me to understand completely different cultures, traditions, and views. I explored locations like Tibet, Japan, Israel, Kenya, and varied elements of the US and Europe, nevertheless it was within the soul of India’s bustling chaos that I discovered one thing actually particular.

Regardless of the stark contrasts of wealth and poverty in India, there may be an awesome sense of freedom and pleasure. Throughout my time in India, I immersed myself in its numerous cultures, traditions, and religions. I met unimaginable folks from completely different walks of life, every with their very own distinctive tales. What struck me essentially the most was the energy and resilience of the Indian folks, and the boundless love and acceptance they shared with me.

I then spent two years working in India. I used to be a co-CEO of Mystifly, a journey expertise firm with an awesome crew. They confirmed me much more colours and smells of India. When folks ask me how I survived in India, I all the time encourage folks to go there and expertise it firsthand. I not solely survived, however I additionally cherished India.

It’s outstanding how journey serves as a bridge, connecting folks and fostering cross-cultural understanding. It was in India that I noticed I might flip my strengths and abilities right into a purpose-led enterprise. I might use it to assist open journey to extra folks internationally.

Q. Are you able to share the story behind beginning your personal travel-related enterprise or challenge?

A. With two profitable companies below my belt, Atlas is my third journey start-up. Each time, I used to be pushed by a robust perception that I might discover options to systemic inefficiencies I noticed round me.

My first expertise in journey was with Wingon Journey, a conventional offline journey company. Throughout my time there, I witnessed firsthand all the problems with reserving flights for our prospects. It required an excessively sophisticated and principally guide course of, and I noticed the potential to make use of expertise to deal with these challenges. It impressed me to launch Aslan, a data-processing firm, that rapidly grew to become the most important B2B air ticketing platform in China. In 2014, Aslan was acquired by Alitrip, now Fliggy, the place I stayed for 2 years as Head of Air Tickets.

Later, in 2019, I launched Atlas, one other journey tech firm. I began it as a result of I wished to unravel points with distributing air content material from low-cost carriers. Whereas these airways had been taking an increasing number of share of the aviation market, journey brokers couldn’t entry their information in a cohesive, seamless method.
Atlas goals to make journey extra accessible and inexpensive by connecting journey sellers with low-cost airways worldwide by way of superior expertise, and we selected this identify for a purpose.

On the finish of June 2019, my daughter Xinyu and I visited the Nationwide Gallery in Singapore and explored the exhibition “Between Declarations and Desires”. One room displayed maps drawn to satisfy the wants of colonizers as Portugal and the Netherlands invaded and colonized Southeast Asia beginning within the sixteenth century. Attributable to completely different eras and mapmakers, the identical geographical location could possibly be depicted in another way on varied maps. These differentiated maps had been compiled into atlases. Earlier than this expertise, I hadn’t thought deeply about it. It appeared that the outcomes from Google or different search engines like google had been the one solutions, presenting an oblong aircraft or a 3D scene earlier than me.

Staring on the yellowed rolls of maps behind the glass cupboard and evaluating the variations in the identical location on completely different maps was fascinating. Maybe if I had been to attract them at the moment, the consequence can be completely different. Even when confronted with the identical surroundings, the recollections left in every individual’s thoughts can be completely different. Touring permits us to create our distinctive atlases.

Q. For those who could possibly be something on the earth or do any position, what would it not be?

A. I’m already doing what I consider is the most effective job on the earth. I’ve by no means loved my life greater than I do now, even with the stress and challenges that include constructing an organization.

My mission is to assist convey extra acceptance and inclusion on the earth by way of the facility of journey, and with Atlas, we’re making journey extra accessible and inexpensive. Every thing we do is aligned with our values, and I reside each day understanding that I do one thing significant and impactful. Constructing a purpose-led enterprise isn’t straightforward, however if you find yourself clear about your targets and imaginative and prescient, it makes it easy and rather more fulfilling!


If you realize of any feminine leaders or up and coming superstars within the Journey and Hospitality business you wish to nominate, please go to our web page and full a nomination kind!






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