Vanichi goes (metaphorically) on Safari with Geoffrey Kent, founder of luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent.

In 1962, Geoffrey Kent launched a safari business with his parents in Nairobi, Kenya. He had an East African shilling to his name and an old Land Rover. Yet, the most valuable thing he possessed at that time was his idea to combine the wonders of safari with the creature comforts of luxury hospitality. From this, Abercrombie & Kent was born and the company began to define luxury adventure. In this interview with the always busy CEO, Vanichi (metaphorically) goes on safari with Geoffrey Kent to discuss his latest book, appropriately titled Safari.

[VM] On page 29, you talk about the moment your father told you, “You’ll never make it.” Why do you think adversity can often drive individuals toward determined exploration?

 

GK: It teaches you the value of persistence.  From playing polo I learned the importance of being able to turn on a dime and in business you must be able to adapt quickly to a changing environment.

 

[VM] Given your jet set lifestyle, what is your management style?

 

GK: My management style is to work a minimum of 16 hours a day and to have my finger on the pulse of the business at every moment. I rely on a key Executive team and the Managing Directors of our offices around the world. I keep in daily touch by email, telephone and satellite phone. The majority of my executives have been with me for many years and we share a commitment to do the best and to be the best each and every day.

 

[VM] How have you been able to fight stigmas some travelers might have about developing countries? What factors do you think helped cause those shifts in their world views?

 

GK: We design travel for those who want to learn about other places and people, rather than just escape their familiar surroundings.  In places where language and cultural differences can present a challenge, you need expert local guides and a network of support to cope with the unexpected to provide peace of mind to your guests.  We have always made it a priority to resource and hire the best guides in each of our destinations – they are always nationals of that country.

 

[VM] How has the luxury travel market changed in the past decade? What are your forecasts for the next decade of luxury travel?

 

GK: Over the past 10 years the face of luxury travel has changed dramatically. It has become much more flexible with an emphasis on unique experiences, rather than the mere physical trappings of luxury. The majority of our guests say their greatest pleasure and satisfaction comes from experiences, a desire for knowledge over possessions.  This kind  of experiential travel is about inherent value, a balance between authenticity, flexibility and the sense of well-being.

 

This is travel for people who define luxury not so much by the degree of elegance, but by the quality of the experience. Price is not the essence of luxury, it’s a by-product. How do you value an authentic experience that is true to its place and its traditions, incorporating elements of the past and reflecting the local culture?

 

[VM] How has technology impacted the luxury travel market? How is Abercrombie & Kent embracing new technologies?

 

GK: We use technology to provide our customers with the information they need to choose a holiday that matches their travel dreams. Our website provides detailed, day-by-day itineraries with pricing for our  most-requested Signature itineraries.  Clients who wish to customize a tailor made itinerary can ‘Skype’ with local destination experts in 25 countries.

 

[VM] As companies like Space X and Virgin Galactic start to explore interplanetary travel, do you see Abercrombie & Kent one day guiding travelers on intergalactic safaris/travel?

 

GK: Our success is built on managing risk with logistics.  But as I explain  in my new book Safari, space travel is just too dangerous.  The best experts have told me it’s not a matter of if there will be accident, but when.

 

[VM] What are five characteristics you look for when exploring a new geographic luxury travel market?

 

GK: Untouched, unique places in truly adventurous destinations. Experiences that connect you with the essence of a place and its people … simply seeing the sights is no longer enough. Experiential travelers want to connect with people from other cultures in ways that enrich their lives and create lasting memories.

 

Geoffrey Kent in Chile's Atacama Desert.

Geoffrey Kent in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

 

[VM] How do you maintain personal balance?

 

GK: I work out every day,  no matter where in the world I am and I try and travel as much as possible with my wife Otavia.

 

[VM] When it comes to leisure travel, what is your travel personality?

GK: I love to be active and am always up for a new adventure.

 

 

[VM] What has been the single most poignant travel experience in your life? What did you discover about yourself from that trip?

GK: At 16 I was asked to leave my school. They didn’t allow students to have motorbikes and I was caught with one. I had a big argument with my father about it and told him I was leaving.

I got on my two-stroke motorbike (a Daimler Puch 250 cc) and headed to Nairobi where I bought a tarpaulin and a sleeping bag from the Salvation Army and built a frame for the bike that held petrol on one side and water on the other. I also bought some biltong, put my food in the helmet (we never wore helmets in those days), bought a Shell map and off I went, eventually riding all the way to Cape Town, 3,000 miles away.

Apparently I was the first person to make the trip by motorbike.  When I got there, I managed to sell my story to a South African newspaper and got paid enough to sail back first-class to Mombasa.

 

[VM] What music are you listening to right now?

GK: U2 – Vertigo

 

[VM] We’d like to ask your advice on where to go when you need certain life experiences. Where do recommend going when you need to:

GK:

  1. Go Off the Grid/Detox From City Life?          On safari at Sanctuary Chief’s Camp in the Okavango Delta of Botswana
  2. Rekindle Romance?                                            Portofino on the Italian Riviera where I first met my wife Otavia
  3. Find Yourself/Spiritual Solace?                        Diving in Palau
  4. Party/Shake a Tail-feather?                               Ibiza

 

Geoffrey Kent in Anarctica.

Geoffrey Kent in Anarctica.

 

[VM] What are the Abercrombie & Kent company values?

GK: We create life changing luxury travel around the world. We deliver authentic experiences on creative journeys with unparalleled expertise, incomparable service and seamless attention to detail.

Safari: A Memoir of a World Travel Pioneer by Geoffrey Kent is available through Amazon.

 

Need more adventure? See Panama through the lens of TERRISHA KEARSE here.