Founder and CEO of luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, and regular LUX columnist, Geoffrey Kent began his career by taking tourists on safaris in Kenya. Now his business operates tours across the globe by land, sea and air – on board the A&K private jet, naturally. As Geoffrey Kent launches his Safari Collection of travel apparel and luggage, Digital Editor Millie Walton asks the luxury travel pioneer about his greatest memories, worst fears and how it all began
LUX: If you could relive one moment in time, what would it be?
Geoffrey Kent: The moment I turned down the opportunity to have dinner with Nelson Mandela. What could have been more important than that? I can’t recall now, but I do keenly feel the regret I have that I never met him. He was so inspiring.
Alternatively, I would relive the dinner I had in New York with former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate Kofi Annan, who passed away recently. I was so impressed with him and grateful to him for saving Kenya, my home, when he brokered a power sharing deal between the president, Mwai Kibaki, and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, in the aftermath of the 2007-8 post-election crisis, bringing peace and prosperity back to Kenya.
On the action front, to win that US Open again would be amazing. It would be a ‘Field of Dreams’.
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LUX: What frustrates you the most about the current travelling industry?
Geoffrey Kent: The lack of regulation in the so-called ‘collaborative economy’ for businesses such as Uber and Airbnb. I’ve used Ubers and stayed in Airbnbs. I think both are amazing, innovative products. The problem is with licensing. I think if I were a taxi driver, I would be very unhappy about Uber. Likewise, Airbnbs are putting licensed hotel operators out of business. There can’t be rules for one and not the other.
LUX: Where do you long to go back to?
Geoffrey Kent: I had the privilege to visit Gabon recently at the invitation of President Ali Bongo Ondimba. In an executive Puma helicopter, I cruised the coast and flew over forests, the sand cliffs, and Kongou and Djidji Falls. I fell in love with Loango National Park where I spotted elephant, hippo, and buffalo. One group of elephant were swimming off the beach with their trunks raised out of the water like snorkels. Tourism is still a fledgling industry in Gabon, but I predict it will take off in a big way and soon, and I hope A&K can be part of it. I’ll definitely be back.
LUX: When were you last afraid?
Geoffrey Kent: I went into Iraq with some SAS guys in 2010. There were some hairy moments during that trip, however the thing that concerns me most on an ongoing basis is climate change. The polar icecaps are melting, there are prolonged heat waves and the sea levels are rising. My concern is there’s no way we can just throw up our hands and say “stop!”. We’re going down this chute far too fast and I believe it’s far worse than we think. Even if we stop burning fossil fuels in the next decade, we might tragically lose some low-lying countries. As both a father and a global citizen, I’m very afraid of climate change. It’s not just about carbon off-setting (though everyone should do that), it’s about sustainability going forwards. For my part, I’m very proud of what Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy is doing around the world in its 41 projects in 20 countries.
LUX: What’s the most recent lesson you’ve learnt?
Geoffrey Kent: That quality is synonymous with luxury has always been my mantra. When I launched the Geoffrey Kent Safari collection of timeless, high-performance, luxury travel apparel and luggage for today’s adventurer, I learned quickly that for me, quality means ‘made in Italy’. I found a manufacturer in Monza, a town just outside of Milan. I like to have a very close relationship with my suppliers and get involved every step of the way. There is such passion and detail put into each and every cut of leather and every stitch made by hand. That same flair and attention to the minutiae has always gone into every bespoke holiday and escorted tour that A&K has created – those are the secret ingredients that clients perhaps can’t put their finger on but always know if they are missing.
LUX: What did you want to be growing up?
Geoffrey Kent: I was obsessed with polo from the time I learnt the sport. When I was 14, Major Digby Tatham-Warter – a family friend – was training in me in three-day eventing at his farm in Eburru. One day he said: “Geoff, you’re excellent in the saddle and you’ve got quick reflexes. Why not try your hand at polo? It’s a much more exciting sport”. And how right he was. Polo excited me wildly and I spent hundreds of afternoons riding ponies with a polo stick in my hand. I became a world-class player and eventually I captained the Windsor Park polo team – which included HRH The Prince of Wales. Together with my US Abercrombie & Kent team, I also won a Cartier Open, World Open Championship, US Gold Cup, and two US Open victories. These victories were dreams come true and more than I could have imagined as a 14 year old learning at Eburru.
Other than that, I would have liked to have been a helicopter pilot or fly fighter jets. I love airplanes and helicopters, plus I’m a bit of an action junkie.
LUX: So how and when did Abercrombie & Kent begin?
Geoffrey Kent: In February 1960, the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan gave his famous ‘Winds of Change’ speech in Cape Town. This address stated that colonial rule could not go on and in 1962, the British government gave Kenya self-governance and determined that the farms in the highlands would be returned to the Kikuyu people. The Kenyan government forced my parents off the farm they’d spent two and a half decades creating in the Aberdares, South Kinangop in Kenya.
Fortunately, my parents – Colonel John and Valerie Kent – had sensed this coming and my father had landed a job as a part-time guide with a local travel company. He had been the first person to map the route from Kenya to Nigeria whilst in the army, so Dad knew the roads and sights of Africa better than any tour guide in the region and thus was able to earn a good wage – especially from American travellers, who tipped generously when they liked a guide.
In 1962, my parents and I made a decision to go in as partners, founding our own travel company (picking the ‘Abercrombie’ out of a phonebook), with the intention of hosting safaris around Kenya, and possibly moving into other areas of Africa.
LUX: And now you’re organising luxury tours across the globe as well as leading your own personal expeditions! What happens next?
Geoffrey Kent: A&K will continue to offer tailor-made luxury holidays and unparalleled escorted-tour experiences. Someone once calculated that I travel 300,000 miles per year. I’d say that was the average. My lifetime total is 17 million miles. When I last counted I had been to 148 counties and there are so many more I still need to see – I have no plans to slow down. I’m currently planning two or three of my Inspiring Expedition by Geoffrey Kent, which are innovative and amazing in every way.
To find out more about Abercrombie & Kent visit: abercrombiekent.com