University of Melbourne Magazine

On the road less travelled

  • Jemma Xu

    “It got to a point in my career where I felt that if I didn’t leave banking I’d be there forever.” PICTURE: MATHEW LYNN

    JEMMA XU (BE, BCom 2012)

    Jemma Xu was travelling in Europe when she was struck by a compelling idea. After a whirlwind of old palaces and glamorous tourist traps that left her a “bit bored”, Xu was pleased to visit an old friend in Krakow, where she was introduced to local life in Poland.

    “I had the best time when I had local friends who took me around,” she says. “It was nothing special. Nothing that looked any different to what a normal Polish person would do.”

    And then she had that thought: what if there was a platform where one could find local experiences everywhere one travelled?

    It would be a few years before her idea came to fruition. After graduating from the University, Xu started on a “traditional path” through the banking sector. She worked for three years at Macquarie Group.

    Her business idea, however, kept bobbing up when she travelled. She took three weeks of annual leave to volunteer in rural China, where she stayed at a school and “did everything a local person would do”.

    “It got to a point in my career where I felt if I didn’t leave banking I’d be there forever,” says Xu, who knew that the further she advanced in her career, the more difficult it would be to pass up the high salary and security such a lifestyle afforded.

    In 2014, Xu founded Tripalocal, an online platform that connects Chinese travellers to local experiences in Australia and New Zealand. She and her co-founders moved into a start-up incubator based in Sydney, where they spent months developing a plan.

    It was a steep learning curve for Xu, a crash course in entrepreneurship. She says the idea for Tripalocal evolved to a business that focused exclusively on the Chinese market, particularly “education tourism”. By May 2015, the company had secured $850,000 in angel funding.

    Since then, Tripalocal has maintained a Melbourne presence and opened an office in Beijing, where Xu now spends most of her time. She travels to universities and schools in smaller cities outside of the saturated Beijing and Shanghai markets.

    She says students at Chinese schools and universities are particularly interested in travelling to English-speaking countries with the prospect of eventually enrolling in a full-time degree course. Tripalocal helps plan tours – for larger organisations or individuals – that include university visits.

    “Education is the most important thing for Chinese families,” Xu says. “They want to look at schools, they want to speak to teachers, get an experience of what it is like to study in Australia, in New Zealand, in the US, in the UK.”

    By Kate Stanton