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Have map will travel | safari pioneer | wild frontiers

Charisma and character - and just a little bit game-changing. Action!

With Abercrombie & Kent, Geoffrey Kent pioneered a style of luxury travel that now takes thousands of trekkers to the planet’s wildest frontiers. In this extract from a new memoir, Safari, he reflects on the journey.

When my parents [John and Valerie Kent] and I went into business in 1962, to most people in the developed world, travel was a treat. Today it is a way of life as well as a way of changing lives: travel and tourism is the most important service industry in the world, the biggest provider of jobs and a key economic driver.

More than 235 million people world wide are employed in travel and tourism. This represents over 8 per cent of all employment and nearly 9.5 per cent of world gross domestic product. The tourism industry significantly boosts employment and contributes to economic recovery and expansion.

Early on, I recognised that for long-term success, the tourism industry needs to operate with sustainability as a major focus. Through industry groups like the World Travel & Tourism Council, of which I am a founding member and served as chairman for six years, we’re finding more and more ways to enrich the lives of travellers, our company, and the people in the places we visit.

Super luxury snapshot

All of this has certainly enriched my life.  … Clients today travel with us because they want the ultimate experience. They still want the most exciting and exclusive safari … but they also want to go to Coco Chanel’s apartment in Paris and have it specially opened for them. They’d like to shop inside Louis Vuitton’s boutique for an hour when it’s closed to the public. They want Victoria’s Secret models at their dinner parties … and we make all that happen.

As I edit my book in late 2014, I’ve just returned from one of our Around-The-World by Private Jet journeys, and we’ve launched a Land Rover Adventure Travel program. As a whole our super luxury business is on fire: supervillas, superyachts, private jets, partnerships with companies such as Christie’s and NetJets. That’s where we are today.

The sense in sustainability

In our early days we found opportunity in places where one couldn’t drink the water; and today in still-developing countries A&K provides clean wells, so that the local people can drink the water.

We’re known as the first to have rebuked the traditional hunting safari in favour of the photographic safari, and we’ve gone to great effort not to disrupt the wildlife or environment where our clients travel – in fact, one of my most important initiatives is the project on which I am collaborating with my close friend Ted Turner to save the endangered Bonobo apes. Sharing 98.7 per cent of our DNA, Bonobos, along with chimpanzees, are the closest relatives to humans … Having grown up with wild animals as neighbours (sometimes too close for comfort) their well-being is one of my most avid concerns.

The tree of life

We will also continue to partner with local communities building schools and hospitals while conserving forest resources, which is a major priority for our company.

Kenyans say that the number of trees you plant during a visit is the number of years in which you have to return for another visit. They also say that to dirty your hands in African soil and then rinse them over the tree you plant is a blessing that your tree will grow stronger and healthier than its neighbours.

At the journey’s end, any passionate traveller knows the conflict of wanderlust: the more destinations you see, the more you desire to see.

The same is true of my work. From the time I was a boy, my mother always said I was impossible to satisfy. The more goals I tick off my list, the more I hunger to accomplish. There is always a next destination. There will always be another new frontier to explore and establish.

The embrace of the wild

There will always be old favourites. In the case of Prince Harry, he has travelled back to the Okavango Delta many times since his first trip there at the age of thirteen. The months after losing his mother [Diana, Princess of Wales] are a time in his life that most boys might want to forget…. but that trip truly transported him, and he has returned time and again to relive that feeling of total escape and being cradled in the unexpected, unmatched safety of the wild.

I often wonder, if Prince Charles hadn’t asked me to take Prince Harry back to Africa, would I have gotten that eureka moment to develop Sanctuary [Retreats] there? I credit them with the inspiration. [As of late 2014], there are 16 Sanctuary Retreats throughout East and Southern Africa, plus river cruises that take clients deep into the heart of Myanmar, China and Egypt.

Each reflects the unique character of its location, and some are developed in partnership with surrounding community. Our idea is that everything should be sourced locally, providing employment to the people who are so willing to share their lives with our guests and who benefit considerable from the money that tourism brings to their communities.

Safari memoir geoffrey kent book cover2

Geoffrey Kent’s latest memoir

Extracted from Safari: A Memoir of a Worldwide Travel Pioneer, by Geoffrey Kent with Kristine Gasbarre, published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, rrp $35. Photos courtesy Abercrombie & Kent.

Featured image, Cleopatra’s Oasis, on Sun Boat III, provides some of the most beautiful views on the Nile; photo: Mohammed Ismail


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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