Welcome to Luxury Travel Beat’s Tripping With segment,what’s keeping you busy at the moment?
I have just returned from a beach safari at one of Africa’s most unique destinations, Saadani National Park in Tanzania. It is one of the few places on earth where bush, beach and river meet, for some of the most varied and interesting wildlife viewing I have enjoyed in years. Saadani is the only wildlife sanctuary in Tanzania bordering the sea and there are two very private, very exclusive lodges that blend rustic chic with eco-cool. Sanctuary Saadani Safari Lodge is set on the coast, with six suites, each opening on to the white sand beaches of the Indian Ocean, while Sanctuary Saadani River Lodge is hidden in the trees along the river with 18 treehouse suites.We are also beginning construction on a new river cruiser in Myanmar which has certainly been keeping me busy!
You, like myself, were born in Kenya. What would you advise a first-time visitor to the country to absolutely not miss?
The Masai Mara is the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of Kenya, with an incredible diversity of wildlife and the stunning scenery of the Great Rift Valley. On a recent trip, we saw the Big Five on our very first game drive of the day – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino – remarkable! I have great respect for the proud Maasai people and their fascinating culture and I am inspired by their pursuit of the traditional way of life.
You became the first individual to travel by motorbike the 5,000 often-treacherous miles between Nairobi, Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa at the age of 17! What possessed you to do that?
At 16 I was asked to leave school. Students were not allowed motorbikes and I was caught with one, so I ended up having a big argument with my father over it. I then got on my two-stroke motorbike, told him I was leaving and headed off to Nairobi.
I bought a tarpaulin and a sleeping bag from the Salvation Army and built a frame for the bike to hold petrol on one side and water on the other. I also bought some biltong, put my food in the helmet (we never wore helmets in those days), bought a Shell map and off I went, eventually riding all the way to Cape Town. Apparently I was the first person to make the trip by motorbike. When I got there, I managed to sell my story to a South African newspaper and was paid enough to sail back first-class to Mombasa.
Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you started A&K?
I helped my parents set up Abercrombie & Kent. But even then my plan was to become an influential tour operator. With off-the-beaten track wilderness walks, canoe trips down African rivers and adventurous mobile safaris, we made it our mission to reinvent experiential travel. We went after a name that would put us at the top of the Yellow Pages. Initially Aardvark was a hot contender but in the end we settled on ‘Abercrombie,’ because it sounded aristocratic. We initially began with the idea of “don’t shoot with a gun, shoot with a camera.” Since we would not be able to rely on hunters for fresh meat, I worked with an old army buddy of mine to design a refrigeration system that made it possible for us to have fresh food – and unlimited ice for the gin & tonics – in the bush. That’s how A&K gained a reputation for providing unexpected comforts and amenities in remote destinations. We wanted to translate the excitement that was once in the hunting experience into our safari trips – they had to be innovative and thrilling.
What else makes it stand out from other tour operators?
Our network of 51 offices around the world means we have established strong roots and fostered enduring relationships in each of these places, which gives us access to people and places that are out of reach to any other travel company. These full-time offices are run by travel experts who are committed to ensuring that every aspect of an A&K trip exceeds expectations and allows us to offer unrivaled attention to detail, safety and standards of service. While each office is small enough to offer personalised attention, as a group we are large enough to secure the best private guides, most luxurious accommodation and safe, reliable transport. We also have a 24-hour emergency response system to insure the safety and security of our guests which has proven itself time and time again.
If you had to pick just one country, one experience and one hotel from the 2014 A&K catalogue, which ones would they be and why?
My current favorite is Zambia. I particularly love places where you can be active and if you’ve only ever seen animals from a vehicle, walking with big game is a thrilling experience. The panoramic views from Sanctuary Puku Ridge Camp are astounding, and because it’s a tented camp, you can still hear the sounds of the African night. On my last trip to Zambia, I also flew in an ultralight over Victoria Falls, which was exhilarating.
Since travel is what you do professionally, what do you do when you truly want to unwind and take a break?
Travel is my true passion. This year, I am planning a trip to escort clients around the world that combines some of my favorite places with destinations that I have always wanted to see, for example Easter Island, which I have unsuccessfully tried to reach three different times. Then we’ll head to Indonesia to track the largest reptile in the world – the Komodo Dragon – and search for Lemurs in Madagascar. Under ordinary circumstances, these remote places are difficult and very time-consuming to reach, but with a small group of clients travelling by private jet makes it all easily possible.
Abercrombie & Kent turned 50 in 2012, what does the future hold for the firm and its clientele?
Our clients seek a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the unknown, an experience of a more profound nature that expands their understanding of the world. They are experience seekers; educated, active, accomplished connoisseurs. The majority are professionals and entrepreneurs with an intense curiosity about the world. For this reason, we are expanding into the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — where a growing number of people want to experience this type of experiential travel but their expectations are very different.
For example, Brazilians love adventure and want elegance and style. They like to travel in big family groups so villas are perfect for them. Russians like our product but demand high-end concierge services, like private store openings. Indians are very keen to experience all that the European capitals have to offer. The Chinese market is more of a challenge as they expect Mandarin speaking guides and experiences that are completely customised for them, including authentic Chinese food. So the future is all about successfully meeting these and other new challenges.