The magnate of the luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent was born on an African safari, served overseas as a soldier and is unapologetic about his high-end holiday preferences.
Travelling life: Geoffrey Kent has Ibiza on his mind
Geoffrey Kent is the founder, chairman and CEO of the luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, which opened its first boutique in Abu Dhabi this January. He was born while his parents, Colonel John and Valerie Kent, were on safari in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Growing up on the family farm in the Aberdare Highlands of Kenya, Kent attended Duke of York School in Nairobi before setting out on a solitary 8,000-kilometre motorbike trip from Nairobi to Cape Town. After attending the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Kent saw service in such far-flung countries as Bahrain, Kuwait and Malta. Back in Kenya, Kent joined his parents in founding Abercrombie & Kent as a luxury safari operation. The concept of providing a “luxury cocoon” from which travellers can explore the world has attracted guests as diverse as James Brolin, Kristin Davis, Bill Gates, John Grisham, Tom Hanks, Henry Kissinger, Jane Seymour and Oprah Winfrey. Itineraries include a 26-day, round-the-world tour priced at US$105,000 (Dh385,665).
How often do you go on holiday?
I have always travelled extensively and because the nature of my company is travel and holidays everyone thinks that every time I go away it’s a holiday. It isn’t. I am always on the go so approximately twice a year I find somewhere quiet and try and switch off.
Where do you call home?
I was born and bred in Africa and lived there for many years. I have also lived in the United States and England but I am now settled in Monaco, which really suits my wife and me. A&K also has a boutique office there which I work from.
Where was your last holiday?
Canouan Island in the Caribbean, which lies in the Grenadines islands belonging to St Vincent. It is a small island, and it only measures 5.6km by 2km. The population is about 1,200 people, and I love it, a complete getaway.
Where do you plan to go next?
Ibiza. Although Ibiza has a reputation for endless partying (for the young and young at heart), there is another side to it especially in the north- east of the island, where it’s quiet, wooded and beautiful scenery. Also, these last few months, I have been travelling extensively so as Ibiza is almost next door, we are looking forward to a short journey.
Have you ever been to the UAE?
Yes, countless times starting in 1963. I was a serving army officer at the time and was posted here and it was certainly different then to what it is today. A&K recently opened its latest travel boutique in Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi – it’s a fantastic office and we plan to expand so I will be visiting regularly from now on.
What do you love about travel?
Visiting new, exciting places and the people that live and work there; I have always believed that tourism should return something to the local population and I established A&K Philanthropy, which pioneered a new form of community development assistance by us forging informal partnerships with grassroots initiatives and compassionate travellers. We always invite our guests to visit our projects; thankfully, most of them do and are really surprised at what is achieved.
What do you hate about travelling?
Jet lag; hence the short hop to Ibiza this year.
Do you prefer simplicity or luxury?
Without doubt elegant luxury, because if you can afford it why not, and I enjoy attention to detail. It’s part of the A&K DNA and how we started the business, by paying attention to the client’s needs, taking care of the details and going that last mile, providing a unique experience never to be forgotten.
What has been your favourite trip?
It still has to be a safari in Africa where A&K began and where I grew up. One of my fondest trips was taking Bill Gates on his first, definitely a highlight. He had only been to Europe and wasn’t an extensive traveller, but he asked me to take him on a trip that had never been done before, and likely would never be done again. So I took him down through Africa on an amphibious landing plane, stopping at places such as the Ngorongoro Crater (the origin point of mankind) and Lake Tanganyika, where Stanley met Livingstone, the presumed lost explorer. That trip to Africa changed Bill Gates’s life and turned him into the philanthropist – with the particular desire to drive malaria from Africa – that he is today, which in turn has changed the world.
Do you like to travel light?
Yes, because airports are becoming busier and security tighter, so I try to limit my airport time and move through the process as smoothly as possible.
What is your favourite city for a weekend?
Without doubt Istanbul, because of its location, history, culture, cuisine. I always take time to watch the street life, for this is the real Istanbul. The people of the city have had centuries to cultivate this life of Istanbul into an art form. It’s also a popular A&K destination.
What do you never travel without?
Who? My wife Otavia. What? My international satellite phone.
Which hotel has the greatest views?
I have seen many hotel views some glorious and not so glorious, but the one that I never tire of is from the presidential suite at the Peninsula in Hong Kong. Day or night, there is always something to marvel at.
What is your idea of a perfect weekend?
With my wife Otavia in Monaco, playing tennis followed by truffle pizza on the terrace at the African Queen, a fantastic local restaurant overlooking the yachts in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and surrounded by magnificent cliffs.
Where is your most romantic place?
I have two, the first near to home: the Villa d’Este at Lake Como, Italy, and further afield Florianó-polis in Brazil. I have very fond memories of both and we try and return there when we can.