The globetrotting founder of Abercrombie & Kent reveals how he first caught the travel bug, the destinations still on his hit list – and the essential item he would never leave home without.
What was your first holiday that made an impact?
I’ve been travelling all my life. I was born in Zambia and grew up in Kenya. My father would take us on a safari every holiday. At 16, I drove my motorbike from Nairobi to Cape Town, which was about 5,000 miles by the time I’d made my detours. Apparently, I was the first person to make the journey by motorbike. When I got there, I managed to sell my story to a South African newspaper and got paid enough to sail back first-class to Mombasa. After that trip, I knew the secret to making someone feel at home in the middle of nowhere is a hot dinner and a cold drink – simple as that.
What makes a hotel truly great in your eyes?
The people. From the receptionist to the head chef, the staff are the life and soul of any hotel. I recently visited Claridge’s and the same concierge who looked after me when I lived there for a short spell many years ago was still there. Claridge’s is a name synonymous with luxury and service. It is impossible to go wrong there.
What are your pet peeves when it comes to a hotel?
I’m sure everyone says this: light switches. Some hotel rooms have become too complicated – the light switch only has one job to do! It is just as important to provide a good working shower. But overall, I don’t have many peeves; each hotel is different from the next, and you must appreciate them for their individuality.
Any top travel tips?
Good hand luggage is vital for carrying your need-to-have items. I always check my luggage in as it comes out so fast these days, but I’m never without my Louis Vuitton briefcase. It’s a Président Classeur from 1972 that’s been all over the world with me. I’ve used it to get out of many a hole – figuratively and literally. When my Land Cruiser got stuck on a dirt track in Tanzania, I put my case down in the mud, placed the jack on top, and jacked the vehicle out. It’s indestructible.
As the world reopens, where are you looking forward to visiting?
I’m looking forward to my upcoming Inspiring Expeditions. These are one-of-a-kind, often multi-country journeys that span the globe. Varying restrictions have meant that it’s been more complicated than before to access multiple countries in a short space of time.
What are the most prevalent trends that you are seeing this year?
During the pandemic, we had plenty of leisure time to discover new hobbies and took advantage of instant access to experts via online classes and webinars. Now travellers are ready to take to the road and experience that same rich education in real life. Egypt, for instance, is a living museum and has been a top enquiry for us throughout the pandemic.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the past two years?
After almost 60 years in the business, I have learned that crises create opportunities. We have used the time to adapt – designing new journeys that meet clients’ changing needs in preparation for when they are ready to travel again. There is a new focus on space and privacy. Guests are choosing experiences in destinations with more outdoor adventures in wide-open spaces and more customisation, including private-air charters.
Who would your ideal travel companion be?
I once had an invitation to have dinner with Nelson Mandela but, unfortunately, I was travelling and could not make it. I regret that, as he was such an inspiring leader.
Dream destination that you are yet to visit?
I’ve travelled more than 18 million miles and been to over 160 countries, but I have yet to visit places like Benin and Eritrea, which will be featured later this year on Around the World with Geoffrey Kent: An Inspiring Expedition by Private Jet.
Where are you off to next?
My wife, Otavia, is Brazilian. We have a lovely house in a place called Florianópolis in southern Brazil. All I do there is read books and relax. It’s perfect.
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