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The SMART Interview #28 Geoffrey Kent

  • 1 Sep 2015

Geoffrey Kent founded luxury safari company Abercrombie & Kent with his parents in 1962. Now with 62 global offices and 350 tours in more than 100 countries, the business attracts more than 250,000 curious travellers every year. He is also a founding member of the World Travel & Tourism Council and a world-class polo player.

At Heathrow Express we like to celebrate doing things that bit smarter. Each month we seek out someone who really exemplifies this approach to work and life and we ask them some questions. This month: Geoffrey Kent 

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You founded Abercrombie & Kent, the luxury safari operation, with your parents. What’s the secret to being a successful entrepreneur? 

The secret of any successful entrepreneur is the ability to turn on a dime. Often your original idea won’t work out and you must be able to turn adversity into opportunity. And you have to be a self-starter with a willingness to learn.

Your business has been founded on being innovative in travel but thinking smarter and being creative is something that many people struggle with. Any tips for people who want to unleash their creativity but don’t know where to start? 

Travel! As my friend Ted Turner says “Travel, no matter the destination, really changes your perspective; it clears your head, opens your eyes and helps cultivate new ways of thinking and the brightest ideas.”

Where did the idea for Abercrombie & Kent come from? 

My parents and I set up Abercrombie & Kent in 1962 after they were forced off their farm in the run-up to Kenya’s independence. I had a very clear vision - adventures full of activity during the day, with total comfort at night. We started with the idea of “don’t shoot with a gun, shoot with a camera” and because we couldn’t 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 G&Ts) in the bush. 

And the Abercrombie part? 

We wanted a name that would sound established and 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.

What do you most enjoy about running your business?

Having the chance to make a difference by using tourism to provide good jobs and protect wildlife and habitats in Africa. When I first met Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, I encouraged him to set aside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as a reserve for the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. Seeing these magnificent animals in their remote home is an experience that stays with you for life. The guides use their experience, knowledge of the gorillas’ habits and information from the previous day to locate the group but gorillas are wild and unpredictable, so it may take as little as 30 minutes or as long as eight hours to find them. Once you locate them, you’re allowed only one hour with these magnificent creatures; when you look into their eyes, you gain a profound understanding of the bond that exists between them and us.

It also brings home the poignant fact that they are on the edge of extinction and that your presence helps protect the habitat that is essential to their survival. Today our guests contribute more than $1 million dollars to the local economy by purchasing permits to track gorillas – not shoot them. That’s the kind of solution we need to stop trophy hunting.

Obviously luxury travel is the heart of your business but how important is travel to you personally?

It’s my life.  I travel more than 300 days a year. Any passionate traveller knows the conflict of wanderlust: the more destinations you see, the more you desire to see.

When you travel what do you always take with you?

I am never without my Louis Vuitton briefcase. It’s a President Classeur from 1972 that’s been all over the world with me. I use it as a substitute for weights and do exercises in my tent.

What’s your favourite hotel? 

The Sanctuary Chief’s Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The camp is located on Chief's Island in the Mombo Concession of the Moremi Game Reserve. The seasonal water of the delta ensures that the area in front of the camp is always changing from a dry flood plain teeming with wildlife to a lush and tranquil lagoon.

And your favourite place in the world? 

Anywhere in Africa. It’s 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 seeping under your skin and staying with you long after leaving. 

Finally is there anywhere that you haven’t been to that you would love to visit? 

I’d love to spend time with the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica and overnight at the South Pole. I’m also planning a diving expedition to Palau where you can dive with a million jellyfish that do not sting. 

Geoffrey's book Safari: A Memoir of a Worldwide Travel Pioneer is in shops now.

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