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As a consultant for the travel industry, I first explored the fascinating and diverse travel industry of Africa in 1996. I found that each country and region in Africa has distinct challenges and opportunities.

There are some issues however, that blur all borders and defy regulatory resolution.  From nation to nation, and city to township, the travel industry has fundamentally changed around us.  For better or worse, agents have been forced from the domain of being needed to a world where they are seen as optional, non-essential luxuries.

Now that the cheapest mobile gadget can secure a booking, the perception of travel agents as being “needed” has all but evaporated.  Whether right or wrong, if the public believes that you are no longer needed, the answer is to do whatever it takes to become desired!

Of course, I think travel agents are not only necessary, but are the most important component of all in the overall travel planning process!  So, how do we convince the public of this?  By focusing less on their needs, and more on their desires.

For example:  we NEED clothes, but we WANT something attractive and fashionable.  We NEED food, but we WANT delicious meals.  We NEED to communicate, but we WANT zippy-fast mobile gadgets.  In all of these categories and others like them, businesses are making a fortune, not by being needed, but by perfecting being wanted.

When it comes to travel, your clients need prices, bookings, documents and transactions.  Sadly, they don’t need you for any of those things. However, if you and your agency can transform into something they DESIRE, bookings will naturally follow.

A leisure client may contact you saying they need a price quote for a package holiday, but that’s not what they actually want. They want to escape the stresses of work, or spend time with their loved ones, or indulge themselves in luxury for a few precious days.

When a corporate client says they need a flight, car and hotel for a business trip, even they actually want something different.  They want to make it to their meeting in time to prepare, so they can make an impressive presentation, close a deal, and most of all:  provide for his or her family.  They also want to get home to be with the people they love.

While I entitled this post “A Fundamental Shift,” it’s really about aligning your message and your focus with what matters most to your clients, even if left unspoken.  They will continue to say they need prices, bookings, and the best deal.  It’s what we all do as consumers; it’s natural. The shift we need to make is to listen more closely to, and focus more attention on the human desires behind those needs.

It’s a fundamental shift that requires fundamental change. Such a transformation can be liberating and at times, frustrating.  Still, if there is one thing I have learned about the people of Africa, it is that you excel at resilience.  That is perhaps, the most important ingredient in becoming truly future-proof.