You yearn to travel to far-flung destinations like Egypt and the Andes, and you want to experience them like no one else has. Perhaps you want an armed guard to keep you safe as you cruise the Nile in style, just as the pharaohs once did. Or you want to watch Andean artisans craft an objet d’art just for you at the base of Huayna Picchu. In other words: you want a trip created exclusively for you. And the price? Well, that is no object.
You are not alone. The demand for bespoke travel experiences has grown exponentially among the wealthy. In some cases, they have even increased their annual spending in this area at two to three times the rate of regular travelers over the past seven years.
It’s hardly a surprise to Geoffrey Kent, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Abercrombie & Kent. He has witnessed a noticeable shift from flashy, ostentatious luxury to what he calls “experiential adventures.”
“Well-traveled clients increasingly want to do something they haven’t seen splashed all over their social media network a hundred times already,” he explains from his office in Monaco. “They want special access, guides who are noted experts and arranged encounters that tie in to the local culture.”
Kent, who often acts as a guide himself, developed a formula of providing what he calls a “luxury cocoon” from which to explore the world. His exclusive luxury excursions have attracted more than 250,000 clients per year, including an A-list of devotees such as Bill Gates, Robert De Niro and even former First Lady and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. What ultimately drew them to an experiential adventure?
To find out, Previews® Inside Out tapped the mind of one of the world’s truest explorers for our “Bespoke” issue.
Previews Inside Out What does bespoke mean to you, in the context of what you do?
Geoffrey Kent Abercrombie & Kent has 52 offices around the world that ensure “by invitation only” access to inspiring experiences in a personalized, low profile and intelligent style. This is what I consider to be “bespoke travel.”
For passionate archaeologists, we can arrange a private tour of Machu Picchu with the resident archaeologist to see the latest finds.
In Buenos Aires, we offer private tango lessons with Tony Award-winning dancers at their historic Buenos Aires mansion.
Many well-known creative artists in Australia continue to live a traditional Aboriginal life in the Outback. We arrange to meet them in the places where they live and work, with time to share their personal stories and inspirations.
In Shanghai, we can arrange a special evening devoted to Chinese contemporary art in the former French concession., where our clients can meet some of the city’s leading painters and personalities.
And we have arranged trips to meet Dr. Charles Foley, who since 1993 has been studying elephants in Tarangire and whose team has identified more than 1,000 individuals and their family groups. Their understanding of elephant behavior has allowed them to develop simple and inexpensive methods to prevent elephants from destroying farms, such as a “chili fence.”
Previews Inside Out Describe your tailor-made planning process for a client—what’s involved?
Geoffrey Kent It’s all about relationships. True private travel arrangements are very labor-intensive and require a rare blend of professionalism and knowledge, patience and understanding, a willingness to discuss and alter, and, most of all, creativity and caring. Abercrombie & Kent is one of the few companies to have a staff dedicated to handling private travel arrangements. These destination experts are adept at devising personalized itineraries that allow you to travel where you want, when you want, with whom you want and in whatever style you choose, from luxurious to adventurous.
Previews Inside Out How much is privacy considered?
Geoffrey Kent Privacy is of the utmost importance. We go out of our way to ensure our guests the privacy they require, whether it be chartering an entire boat in the Galapagos or offering exclusive access of a camp in Africa.
Previews Inside Out What’s a general price range for how much a typical bespoke trip may cost?
Geoffrey Kent It varies widely from destination to destination. But an average starting price is about $850 per day. From there, the sky is the limit, depending on what types of activities and accommodations are included.
Previews Inside Out What are some of the most off-the-beaten-path bespoke trips you’ve planned?
Geoffrey Kent There have been so many during our history, but a few immediately come to mind. We planned a trip to Antarctica where we set up a photo shoot for the 2013 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
The “1001 Arabian Nights” trip was another one. It was a party for 12 celebrities from around the world, hosted by one of the world’s top super models. The event included five nights on the Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau, our beautiful boutique riverboat, as well as arranging daily events, including a birthday celebration at the Temple of Hatshepsut, where we held a pharaonic parade. Guests enjoyed a 20-meter-long cake and had performances of excerpts from the opera “Aida” while marching in. The magical night was basically a seated dinner for 18 people, which was followed by another magical night at the Pyramids of Giza, where we built a special tent for 40 guests with a royal table. It was incredible.
Kenya will always be near and dear to my heart. [Editor’s note: Kent was born in Kenya while his parents were on safari and grew up on the family farm. At 16, he became the first individual to motorbike between Kenya and Cape Town.] During one spectacular Kenya trip, we took a Eurocopter safari to explore Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Being aboard the quietest helicopter in the world and therefore minimizing the disturbance to wildlife, our guests enjoyed enhanced game viewing and, of course, luxuries such as air conditioning, large leather seats, music and an intercom system.
Previews Inside Out And what about the most memorable trip?
Geoffrey Kent One of the most incredible and memorable days was up into the Northern Frontier. On take-off, we headed west before swooping down into the Great Rift Valley above Lake Baringo and then flew north through the Suguta Valley. One of the most savagely beautiful regions on the planet and all but inhospitable, one feels as if one is witnessing the beginning of the world. Volcanoes, some extinct, others still active, and lava flows abound, while huge, undulating sand dunes dominate the landscape. As we flew in the early morning, the changing light cast fantastical colours and nuances of shadow across the scene.
We skimmed Lake Logipi, a pink explosion of millions of flamingos, and topped Teleki’s Volcano to see before us the vast jade expanse of Lake Turkana. Dipping down and over the lake, we saw Turkana and Ol Molo fishermen at work amidst crocodiles as large as can be found anywhere. We landed for lunch up at Desert Rose, a fabulously remote and imaginatively built home belonging to Yaov and Emma, lost high up in Samburuland to the south of Turkana on the holiest of holy mountains, Mount Nyiru.
Previews Inside Out What’s the one bespoke trip that you’re dying to design?
Geoffrey Kent I just planned the ultimate around-the-world private jet journey, which I’m also hosting, to wildly exotic destinations, including Uzbekistan, the Philippines and Mongolia.
Previews Inside Out You’ve also planned and designed a special trip to Cuba and South America next September.
Geoffrey Kent Yes. The trip, which starts on September 6 and lasts until September 28, 2016, takes guests on a 23-day odyssey around a continent to discover the vibrant cultures of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, the mysteries of Machu Picchu and Easter Island, the natural wonders of Torres del Paine, Iguazu Falls and the Pantanal. It is the first private jet journey to include a people-to-people program in Cuba.
This immersive experience appeals to people who are focused on building their professional careers and feel they have not had time to adequately explore the wonders of a continent so close to our own. The draw of South America has lured me back dozens of times, and I look forward to our guests discovering those same wonders.
Previews Inside Out What are you most looking forward to during that trip?
Geoffrey Kent I’ll be travelling with our guests from Miami to Cuba. On my last trip to Cuba, I’ll never forget strolling through Old Havana on a walking tour with a local architect, discussing the challenges of preserving the historic buildings and finding ways to repurpose them. Then, we had dinner at a charming parador, a privately owned restaurant where we talked to the owners about the challenges of being an entrepreneur. This is something I think our guests will really appreciate.
Easter Island remains one of the most isolated places on the face of the earth, some 2,300 miles from the Chilean mainland. More Polynesian than South American in character, there are more than 600 moai, the human-like stone statues found all over the island. Their purpose remains very much a mystery. Our guests will be able to hike along “the way of the moai,” the trail once used to transport the statues, which was an amazing feat for the Rapa Nui people since they did not have access to the wheel!
And finally, the Pantanal—South America’s Everglades and the world’s largest wetlands. The Brazilian Pantanal is home to the highest density of jaguars in the world. I had the privilege of spotting closely seven jaguars in two days on my last safari into the Pantanal!
Previews Inside Out That trip sounds amazing. If we wanted to reserve our spot, what’s the cost?
Geoffrey Kent It’s $99,500 for 23 days.
Previews Inside Out You still travel the world, interviewing guides and scouting locations—which places have left the most vivid impression on you?
Geoffrey Kent My favorite destination is Zambia. I love places where you can be active. If you’ve only 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 and swam in Devil’s Pool at the edge of the falls.
I also love Myanmar. A truly spiritual destination, the countryside is largely untouched by the influence of Western civilization. The rivers take you deep into the heart of Burma, almost to the border of China or India. Guests admire the beauty of life along the river. Bagan, the 11th-century capital of the country, is one of Asia’s most extraordinary destinations, with more than 4,000 temples, pagodas and stupas (Buddhist memorials) that are a treasure trove of Buddhist history.
Previews Inside Out Where haven’t you gone yet?
Geoffrey Kent The South Pole.
Previews Inside Out You must have so many amazing travel stories to tell! Can you share one with us?
Geoffrey Kent I was with Richard Burton in the Masai Mara in Kenya. We had just sat down around the fire for sundowners, and I walked over to the mess tent to refresh his drink. I heard a roar behind me and a lot of screaming and turned to see four lionesses bringing down a buffalo in our campfire!
I quickly upended the table, sending the crystal and china flying, and gathered the guests behind it as a barricade. What an amazing spectacle! The next day, Burton wanted to know if I could do it again. He thought I had planned the whole thing!
Previews Inside Out When you’re not traveling, where is home for you?
Geoffrey Kent I am based in Monaco but also have homes in London and Brazil, where my wife is from. My parents and I founded Abercrombie & Kent as a safari company in East Africa, a part of the world that I still love and spend time exploring.
Previews Inside Out How long do you typically stay home before your sense of wanderlust takes over again?
Geoffrey Kent I travel for as many as 300 days per year. I have always been interested in excitement and adventure and enjoy being on the move. I’m as passionate about my job now as I was when I first started A&K, and one of the benefits is the ability to travel and discover new and exciting destinations. I don’t think I could stay put in any one location for long.
Previews Inside Out Where do you feel most at home? Certainly, Kenya…
Geoffrey Kent Yes, it’s where I grew up, and the Masai Mara still has the most incredible game viewing on earth. It is hard to express in words why Africa is such a magical place, but as anyone who has ever spent time there will vouch, it has a way of getting under your skin. The landscapes are spectacular, and the wildlife is amazing. But for me, the quintessential African safari experience comes when the sun goes down, sitting around a campfire sharing stories and reminiscing—a chance to experience the last of the timeless, wild Africa that is now so much harder to find.
Previews Inside Out What can we look forward to from Abercrombie & Kent in the near future?
Geoffrey Kent My new vision, Intrepid Expeditions, will be launching soon. I will be taking no more than 20 people for 10 days by private jet, helicopter, etc. to the furthest corners on earth. For instance, living with the emperor penguins in Antarctica and sleeping at the South Pole. A Northern Lights expedition to Iceland, Greenland and Lapland, where we will learn how to race a car on ice from a famous driver and have a banquet catered by Noma. Also, a diving expedition to Palau, where you are surrounded by a million jellyfish that do not sting.
Previews Inside Out Friendly jellyfish? Count us in.