Geoffrey Kent, founder and co-chairman of Abercrombie & Kent, tells us all about the adventures of his life (well, about some of them, anyway!) and why post-pandemic travel to Africa is crucial for wildlife conservation on the continent.
The current environment has given rise to a new level of tailor-made, guest experiences. Today’s travellers want to work with people they can trust, those who can make them feel safe when everything is uncertain and a steady hand that offers support when so much seems to be overwhelming. At Abercrombie & Kent, we know they still want to do extraordinary things, to visit places that are not perfect, but very real – places that offer genuine experiences. They want a chance to meet local people and engage in culture.
I was born while my parents were on safari – in what is now Zambia – and grew up in Kenya. I rode horses before I could run, and I remember there being elephants and buffalo grazing in our back yard as a child. I spoke Swahili long before I learnt English. So you could say a sense of adventure, exotic culture and a deep love of wildlife has always been in my blood.
Life is undoubtedly messy, especially at this moment. That’s why reconnection is important, not just with other people, but with nature. People often ask me where I would recommend going when the pandemic subsides. I think it has to be somewhere in Africa – you can take me out of Africa, but you’ll never take Africa out of me – and I think it’s somewhere that needs the tourism dollars most right now. Botswana particularly, there’s magic there. After Princess Diana’s tragic death in 1997, HRH Prince Charles asked me to take their son, the young Prince Harry, on safari.
I chose Botswana and the Okavango Delta, a vast wilderness where I knew photographers would not be able to find him, ironic because it is the ‘predator’ capital of the continent, where the lion, leopard, cheetah and the rare African painted dog are all endemic. Not only is it a place of escapism, but one that revives the soul, renews and enlightens, especially after a difficult or dark time. Botswana faces a challenge of balancing the needs of its human and animal population, more so now in the height of the pandemic. What worries me is that the lack of visitors to the parks and reserves provides more opportunities for poachers. With no fees from tourism to support the government, nor cash for the local community who rely on tourism, it’s hard to blame people for doing foolish things when they’ve lost their livelihoods.
A while back we set up our charitable foundation, A&K Philanthropy. In Botswana, we have successfully forged public and private partnerships to protect wildlife while supporting the people who live there. I’m proud that we have been able to double our funding for our projects even during these challenging times.
I often think of travel as a rite of passage. Travel puts you in situations that help people develop mutual respect, trust, and honesty with one another. It is so important that we get back out there as soon as we can. I appreciate that could take some time, so I feel that the ultra-high-net-worth, those with the privilege and means, are important in the recovery of tourism and the communities that serve it. They will lead the way in borders reopening, bring hope and moreover, a much-needed injection of cash.
That’s why we’re focused on our ultra-luxe collection, the bespoke journeys and private-access moments. In the decades that we’ve been doing this, we’ve created a global network of A&K people who know how to meet the needs of those who value privacy, individuality and safety. Our ultra-luxury arm and Chairman’s Club journeys are centred around our ultimate portfolio, something we continue to build. These are our elite experiences that challenge the norm, broaden horizons and offers the ultimate level of luxury – from private jet journeys, yachts and residences, to epic long-duration adventures, to itineraries with blackbook access – to what I’m proudest of, and that’s getting guests involved and engaged with our philanthropy projects.