Abercrombie & Kent CEO Geoffrey Kent was destined to become the head of a renowned luxury tour operator. Born while his parents were on safari in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), he spent his childhood on a farm in the Aberdare Highlands of Kenya. At 17, he became the first person to travel the 5,000 miles between his home and Cape Town, South Africa, by motorcycle, sparking his interest in the travel business and leading to his co-founding of A&K with his parents. Taking full control of the company in 1969, Kent, along with his wife, Jorie Butler Kent, expanded it from a small firm that offered trips through East and Central Africa to a powerhouse in the outfitting business known for scouring the world for exotic destinations while constantly finding new and unusual ways to delight its clientele. Travel + Leisure caught up with Geoffrey Kent in London to ask him about A&K's new tours, his most memorable safari, and the one thing that could stop him from traveling.
1. Where are you now? Why are you there?Where else would you rather be?
Currently, I'm in London, establishing a new European headquarters for the A&K Group.
I'd like to be at Chief's Camp, on Chief's Island in the heart of Botswana's Okavango Delta. The island was once a private hunting ground reserved for Batwana chiefs. Now it's part of the Moremi Game Reserve, but there's still a sense of being in a special place apart from the everyday world. The area is known as "the predator capital of Africa."
2. How often do you travel?Is it usually for business or pleasure?How do you usually arrange it, and where are you off to next?
Normally, I'm travelling about 100 days out of the year. I travel for A&K, and since my business is pleasure, my travel combines both.
Transport?Airplane, Land Rover, river raft, camel ... the same ways A&K guests are apt to go.
In August, I'm looking forward to a visit to our North American headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, followed by a September safari in the Serengeti plains.
3. How are you developing and expanding the services of Abercrombie & Kent in the next 10 years?
We'll be building on our network of local destination-management companies, in places such as South America, China, and Indochina. These on-site offices are small and specialized enough to offer unique boutique services and personal attention, yet, combined with the A&K Group, they form a company large enough to offer our guests the world's best escorts, accommodations, transportation, and special access.
4. What are some of the new tours A&K will be offering in 2003?Which destinations do you see as the hot new travel spots?
Sailing Ancient Shores is a journey along the northern coast of the Mediterranean—from the Greek Islands to the Dalmatian Coast, the Amalfi Coast, and the French Riviera. These are waters we know very well, and we've chosen what we think is the ideal vessel for the trip: Callisto. She's a 34-passenger yacht, small enough to let us explore the small islands and secluded bays that most non-locals never see.
South America is this year's most-talked-about travel destination. There has been increased interest in trips combining Peru and the Galapagos, which unite the archaeological wonders of Machu Picchu with a relaxing cruise through the enchanted islands of the Galapagos.
5. How many safaris have you been on and what is your most memorable experience?
I stopped counting at 200 safaris. The most memorable one was in 1976. Sudan is the largest country in Africa, and the southern Sudan region, where I was exploring, is about three times the size of France. That safari was six months long, and I still dream about the landscapes and the people I met.
6. Tell us a little about the Friends of Conservation organization and how it has impacted the lives of the Masai.
My wife, Jorie, and I founded Friends of Conservation in 1982; she is the major force behind it. We are very honored to have HRH The Prince of Wales as our International Patron. One of the prime missions of the organization is to help create a sustainable climate for conservation by connecting the well-being of local people with the protection of wilderness environments. So FOC does a lot of work promoting conservation education in schools that it has set up and runs. It's also very active in rhino-protection projects, which employ Masai trackers and rangers. We've expanded FOC's good works of conservation to all seven continents through a new organization: the A&K Global Foundation.
7. What changes has A&K made to adapt to the new travel climate?
People want a sense of personal control when they travel. For some, that translates to staying closer to home, and so we've added new travel choices in the United States, including River Rafting and Guest Ranches in the American West. Others are happy to continue traveling the world in a small, escorted group, but they want more time to explore on their own; A&K's Discovery Series offers itineraries with excellent value and plenty of time to follow your own nose. People who prefer the privacy and flexibility of traveling alone, or with their spouse or family, like to know that A&K can take them anywhere they want to travel, whenever and however they'd like to explore, on a private tailor-made program created just for them.
8. What is your favorite A&K tour package?
A cruise on the Nile River in Egypt. It's a trip back in time. I am always astonished by what the ancient Egyptians managed to create from a narrow strip of green surrounded by desert.
9. Is there anything that could stop you from traveling?
I was going to say death or poverty, but even if I didn't have a nickel to my name, I'm sure I could still find a way to travel. Anyone need a cabin steward on their yacht?
10. What is the one thing you know now, that you wished you knew then?
Well, there is one thing I know now that I never would have believed then: that there are lots of people who are gutsy and curious and intrepid in every other aspect of their lives—but who won't travel outside the U.S. or Europe. For some reason they're afraid to head off to the far corners of the world ... and they miss so much. We try to reassure our guests by providing all the support they need and want, anywhere in the world, with a few unexpected comforts and surprises as well.
Interviewed by Melissa Eisberg