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Abercrombie & Kent: Reinventing the meaning of luxury

Unashamedly luxe holidays from a brand with a rich history of redefining the luxury travel experience

High-end travel specialist Abercrombie & Kent has been setting the standard for nearly 60 years – since Geoffrey Kent first redefined the African safari. He founded his company in 1962 on the back of a game-changing idea, the first refrigerated truck in east Africa (a converted ex-Army vehicle) and the best bush tents money could buy.

Geoffrey Kent on Nairobi’s Delamere Avenue, 1958
Geoffrey Kent on Nairobi’s Delamere Avenue, 1958

Kent’s first clients were an oil-money-rich Texan couple, the Worthings, for whom he planned a unique safari. On a 30-day itinerary that ranged from Kenya to Tanzania to Uganda, Tom and Sara Worthing were the first to experience a luxury safari under canvas, on which travellers shot big game with cameras, not guns. For this bespoke trip – adventurous by day, but luxurious by night – the safari concept was turned upside down, for the mutual benefit of the animals that roamed Kent’s beloved Africa, and his guests.

Having forged a new frontier and brought a new level of luxury to traversing the wilds, A&K broadened its horizons in the late 1960s. With a client base of high-net-worth travellers seeking five stars in the wilds, Kent’s sights turned northwards, past the Sahara to Egypt – with its atmosphere of romance, mystery and antiquity.

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The first non-Egyptian-owned company with a government sanction to conduct tours in this storied land, A&K launched a Nile cruise operation. The first trip advertised was immediately booked out by a wealthy American banker. Kent had another winner. The Sun Boat was the most luxurious vessel on the Nile, with panoramic windows, lavish marble detailing and even a swimming pool. Such was the demand for cruising the Nile in style that Sun Boat IIIII and IV soon followed.

Then came India, China (where A&K was the first western tour operator) and Uganda. Kent convinced General Museveni, then future president of Uganda, to designate the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as a national park, on the condition that A&K build a luxury camp and bring in clients to boost the local economy. In so doing, the company helped conserve the endemic mountain gorilla population. Today, A&K operates across the world, from Antarctica to Australia. 

The Geoffrey Kent Suite at Sanctuary Olonana - enjoy views over the Mara River from luxurious suites
The Geoffrey Kent Suite at Sanctuary Olonana - enjoy views over the Mara River from luxurious suites

Over the years, Kent’s fledgling safari business has grown into a global family of over 2,500 travel specialists, located in more than 55 offices, in over 30 countries – all delivering A&K’s hallmark formula of energy, authenticity, and luxury. Clients can choose from a smorgasbord of offerings: perfectly personalised itineraries; beach holidays that go beyond the lounger; an unparalleled European villa portfolio; escorted tours with an ethos of excellence; and luxury expedition cruises. Geoffrey Kent remains at the helm, co-chairing the company with another titan of travel, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio of Silversea Cruises renown. He leads the Inspiring Expeditions by Geoffrey Kent, journeys into remote regions by private jet – perfect for discerning high-net-worth adventurers.

As in the 1960s, luxury travel is evolving, and as ever A&K is at the forefront of charting the changing landscape. Consumers are redefining what the term “luxury” means. Before 2008’s financial crash, luxury described ostentatious spending and opulence. Within the travel industry, this equated to first-class flights, five-star hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and designer souvenirs. A significant shift has occurred and the key to luxury has become much more experiential. 

Experiential travel and its evolutionary progression to transformational travel are the sector’s most significant trends. Savvy travellers have shucked off the term “tourist” and are shunning the well-worn tracks in favour of blazing new trails. For them, luxury is having an authentic experience – an encounter that is true to the place and its traditions, acknowledging the past and respecting local customs. 

Sanctuary Olonana, Kenya
Sanctuary Olonana, Kenya

In 2020, travellers are searching for a connection to other cultures, as well as to the world at large. Travel is a practical way to process and respond to an increasingly complex global situation. This isn’t new ground for A&K – it has been encouraging travellers to experience a destination authentically and sustainably since the 1960s: plus ça change.

Over the years, A&K has cultivated a worldwide network of contacts and local offices, whose close relationships with governments, tastemakers, hoteliers and the custodians of wildlife preserves and historic sites open the door to unique insider opportunities. For those seeking an even more elite level of access, A&K has a VIP service for high-net-worth individuals. The Chairman’s Club offers members a dedicated private client travel manager, concierge-style support before and throughout each holiday, invites to exclusive events and specially curated experiences.

Follow in the pawprints of the Lion King
Follow in the pawprints of the Lion King

In A&K’s heartland of Kenya, one Ultra Luxury offering is a family-orientated journey inspired by The Lion King. The movie’s wilderness settings are ripe for exploration. From the original animated version to the live-action remake, Simba’s story has a special place in children’s collective consciousness; and memories made on this immersive real-life trip will last forever. This eight-night journey includes immersion in Lewa and the Masai Mara, landscapes, which inspired The Lion King’s creators. The adventure then proceeds, via helicopter, to Hell’s Gate National Park in the Great Rift Valley, with the majestic edifice of the Pride Rock. Young explorers will love creating a mini-movie with Big Cat Diary host Jonathan Scott and everyone can share a breakfast with long-necked friends at Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor.

Experience the Japanese wellbeing culture
Experience the Japanese wellbeing culture

Across the globe, meanwhile, A&K’s guests can take an innovative and inspiring trip for the body, mind and soul in Japan. This Ultra Luxury itinerary promises personal transformation throughout a 10-night journey enhanced with onsen treatments, forest bathing and kintsugi. The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, using gold lacquer to highlight imperfections, kintsugi embraces wabi sabi, the perfection of imperfection. This philosophy can serve as a guiding principle for a more fulfilling, less pedantic life. The itinerary ends with a two-day cruise on the Seto Inland Sea aboard a guntû (a pleasure boat) – half-hotel, half-traditional ryokan and all-luxury wellness experience.

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A&K offers the perfect holidays for those looking for a transformational experience that will outlast the physical journey.

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