A few years ago, industry experts predicted the rise of what they called the ‘Silent Traveller’, a traveller who would book his or her travels online, and wouldn’t need any handholding. Lo and behold: this traveller did indeed come… and then went.

Travellers have become overwhelmed by a digital overload. Although they are perfectly capable of navigating the world of travel, they don’t want to. As Skift adequately describes in its report ‘Skift Megatrends 2017’: “The biggest lesson learned from talking to the high-maintenance, highly connected travellers? They want the humanity back in travel.”

When international travellers are looking for a leisure or MICE trip to Africa, they want the personal service they get from a small travel company that truly cares about their clients. They don’t want to feel that they’re just one sausage in a huge sausage factory. They want to feel special and unique and be presented with a tailor-made experience.

It’s not only in the service delivery of the tour operator that clients are looking for humanity, but also in the experiences they seek out at the destination.  For 2017, we booked two musical exchange experiences for MICE groups, whereby a joint performance is organised with an African rural music band and visiting musicians. Both parties study the same pieces of music, and when they come together they give a small concert in the community.

It’s amazing to experience how people from totally different backgrounds who are miles apart in terms of privilege and education can find common ground in music. Sometimes, people perceive music to be élitist, but it can also be a common element that binds people together, even if they don’t speak the same language.

Both leisure and MICE travellers can also integrate other cultural exchanges in their programmes, where they can visit an urban agriculture project, a youth development centre or they can help assist refugees… the possibilities are endless in terms of cultural exchanges.

For these kinds of experiences, tour operators or DMCs don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Instead they can work with organisations such as Utando, which have identified worthwhile projects where people are making a lasting difference to the community.

The most important aspect to remember when organising cultural exchanges is that they should not be looking down at poverty from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus as if they were driving around an exhibition or a zoo. A cultural experience should be about the experience and not about being a spectator. The key is to have a cultural exchange where everyone feels worthwhile and which truly brings back the humanity to travel.