Geoffrey Kent founded travel company Abercrombie & Kent with his parents in the sixties.
Geoffrey Kent has had a fascinating life. Born while his parents were on safari and with more adventures before the age of twenty than most of us get in a lifetime, Geoffrey founded travel company Abercrombie & Kent with his parents in the sixties. They created a new model for travel that celebrated customization and style, personalizing travel experiences and innovating cultural experiences abroad. Over the last 50 years, A&K has taken travelers to off-the-beaten-path destinations, on adventure tours that up until now we had only dreamt about. We talked to Geoffrey about how his company came to set the standard for experiential luxury travel, and how in addition A&K has come to be one of the most generous philanthropic travel companies in the world.
JST: First and foremost, what type of traveler would appreciate an A&K travel experience?
GK: While many who travel are thrilled to simply be in a foreign country, our guests seek a deeper knowledge and appreciation, an experience of a more profound nature that expands their understanding of the world. They want travel that does more than just provide a rest and a getaway.
They are experience seekers; educated, active, accomplished connoisseurs who enjoy the good life and insist on the best the world has to offer. The majority are professionals and entrepreneurs with an intense curiosity about the world.
JST: A&K seems to constantly innovate and expand on the idea of “luxury travel.” How do you define a luxury travel experience?
GK: Real luxury has three hallmarks: authenticity, flexibility and a sense of well-being. Authenticity means the experience is true to its place and its traditions, incorporating elements of the past and reflecting the local culture. Flexibility refers to service that anticipates your needs and satisfies them in an unobtrusive manner, going above and beyond to exceed your expectations. Peace of mind comes from knowing you are traveling with a first class organization staffed by professionals for whom the word “impossible” does not exist.
JST: Your Connections journeys are particularly suited for travelers who want immersion in culture. How did you come up with the idea?
GK: Abercrombie & Kent has long set the standard for luxury travel, but I long felt there was an opportunity to define a new tier of A&K travel that delivers incomparable experiences without costly amenities.
Connections journeys were designed by the on-the-ground experts in our offices around the world to deliver a true understanding of a destination’s culture, history and natural beauty. The group size remains small, no more than 24 guests, so there is more one-on-one time with local experts, less time spent boarding and disembarking vehicles, and ample personal interaction with the A&K Tour Director who orchestrates each journey.
JST: Your tour guides are crucial to making that experience authentic. What do you look for in a guide?
GK: When challenging your view of the world is one of your travel objectives – and authentic experiences matter more to you than casual acquisition – having the right guide is essential. Our guides are local experts whose education, field research, exploration, and personal accomplishments make them ideal companions. Most importantly, they are cultural interpreters who explain local customs and offer thoughtful insights that will transform your understanding of your destination. They coordinate exclusive insider access to places and people you would never otherwise find on your own – focused on your interests and personal passions.
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JST: You have had a pretty incredible life. What is one of your most remarkable travel memories?
GK: I was with Richard Burton in Kenya. We had just sat down for sundowners, and I walked over to the mess tent to refresh his drink. I heard a roar behind me, and a lot of screaming, and turned to see four lions bringing down a buffalo in our campfire.
I quickly upended the table, sending the china and crystal flying, and gathered everyone behind it as a barricade. What an amazing spectacle! The next day Richard wanted to know if we could do it again. He thought I had planned the whole thing!
JST: That’s incredible! You have come to be extremely influential in global travel, from your role as President of the Prince of Wales Foundation to Chairman of the World Travel & Tourism Council. As a leader in the business of world travel, what has been one of your most proud contributions?
GK: Sustainability has long been at the heart of Abercrombie & Kent. We know that sustainable tourism provides critical financial support to parks and reserve areas, providing a compelling economic incentive to protect wildlife and habitat.
Endangered Mountain Gorillas can only be found in Africa, in just three countries. In the late 1980’s, I encouraged the president of Uganda to set aside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as a reserve area. Today more than half the world’s surviving mountain gorillas are found there.
JST: It must feel good to know that you’re making a positive impact in the world…
GK: Seeing these gorillas in their remote home is an experience that will always stay with me. Early in the morning you set out from Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp to search for them, hiking up and down steep mountain slopes, through primeval rainforest. Your guides use their experience, knowledge of the gorillas and their habits, and information from the previous day to locate the group. But gorillas are wild and unpredictable, so you may find them in as little as 30 minutes, or as long as 8 hours. Once you locate them, you are allowed to spend an hour with these magnificent creatures. Looking into their eyes, you gain a profound understanding of the bond that exists between them and us. It also brings home the poignant fact that they are on the verge of extinction, and that your presence is helping to raise the money needed to protect their home.
Today our guests contribute more than $1 million dollars a year in park fees that are used to prevent poaching.
JST: On that note, we’ve been hearing more and more buzzwords like “ecotourism” and “sustainable travel.” It seems that more and more travelers are beginning to embrace their role in sustaining the places they visit. How has A&K created similar opportunities for these travelers?
GK: As travel increasingly becomes about the things money cannot buy – shared experiences and treasured memories – more and more guests want to make a personal connection and positive contribution to the places they visit. We have pioneered an evolving form of community development assistance by introducing civic-minded travelers to grassroots organizations making a difference in the places they visit.
Our local A&K offices identify conservation, health, education and cultural challenges in their respective communities, and then work with grassroots organizations to find solutions.
JST: What are some of your favorite philanthropic projects?
GK: We contribute to Sam’s Brothers Clean Water Project in Cambodia; waterborne illnesses are responsible for more than half of the deaths in Cambodia’s countryside. A&K guide Nhean Samban and his brothers started building wells, and with support from AKP and A&K guests, they have dug more than 700, supplying clean, bacteria-free water to more than 11,000 people. Additionally, our Conservation Clubs in Kenya have planted more than 250,000 trees in the Greater Masai Mara.
JST: That’s incredible. Do you have any final travel wisdom to impart on us?
GK: I always say…Luxury travel is not just about price, but also about value – what you feel you have gained from the experience.
Learn more about Abercrombie & Kent at www.abercrombiekent.com. Find more details on Abercrombie & Kent’s current projects at www.akphilanthropy.org. 100% of all contributions go directly to the project since A&K covers all administrative costs.
All photos provided by Abercrombie & Kent, Copyright © Abercrombie & Kent Picture Library.