Geoffrey Kent’s life is a more thrilling ride than many Hollywood movies. The co-founder of luxury safari tour operator Abercrombie & Kent was born while his parents were on safari in Zambia; it seems like Kent’s calling was destined. As a young boy growing up on a farm in Kenya, Kent roamed barefoot in the bush, rode horses and developed a love of the land.
The co-founder of luxury safari tour operator Abercrombie & Kent was born while his parents were on safari in Zambia; it seems like Kent’s calling was destined.
At 15, he went on a rite-of-passage safari hunting elephants. It would be a pivotal experience. First, when he shot the elephant, he was heartsick and vowed that the only thing he would ever shoot on safari again would be a camera. Secondly, he was given an elephant tail bracelet to mark the occasion. When he saw how interested others were in the bracelet, he began to make and sell the jewelry. Kent the entrepreneur was born.
Kent was educated at the prestigious Duke of York School in Nairobi, and was on track to become one of the many leaders the school has produced, until he was kicked out at age 16.
“I was asked to leave because they didn’t allow students to have motorbikes, and I was caught with one,” said Kent.
Not surprisingly, Kent’s father wasn’t pleased; the two had a big row and Kent announced he was leaving.
It wasn’t lip service. He bought a tarpaulin and sleeping bag from the Salvation Army, fashioned a frame for his bike to hold gas on one side, water on the other, and stuffed a handful of his elephant bracelets in his gear to sell along the way for money. He had decided to trek 3,000 miles from Nairobi to Cape Town. When he arrived in the city five months later he became the first person to ever do the trip on a motorcycle.
“That experience made me realize I had a passion for travel, but fearing what I might do as an encore, my father packed me off to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst (when I got home),” said Kent.
To prepare for the rigors of military life, Kent joined an Outward Bound expedition and summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, not once, but twice. He was still just 17. At Sandhurst, Kent excelled, especially in logistics, and became part of the prestigious “Skins” unit that today the Prince of Wales serves as Colonel in Chief.
Military life took the young Kent throughout the Middle East, increasing his network of influential people, feeding his love of travel, and teaching him skills he would continue to use throughout a lifetime at the helm of A&K.
Necessity is truly the mother of invention. When the political climate in Kenya shifted in the 1960s, the Kent family lost its farm and its livelihood. Kent’s father landed a part-time job guiding safaris, and soon Kent and his parents decided to go into business together, founding A&K.
Geoffrey Kent in Kenya
A&K disrupted the safari business from the get-go when Kent bought a Land Cruiser, becoming the first tour company to have its own truck. Kent and his parents didn’t see eye-to-eye on the development of the company, so when his parents went on vacation, Kent withdrew nearly all the company’s money from the bank and put his plan to create a luxury safari experience into place.
He created a refrigerated truck to ensure guests could have gourmet meals in the bush, poached the food and beverage team from his country club, and developed tents with indoor plumbing. To say his parents were upset would be putting it mildly. But when Kent immediately sold a private, 30-day safari to an American couple, it was clear his business model worked.
A&K disrupted the safari business from the get-go when Kent bought a Land Cruiser, becoming the first tour company to have its own truck.
“We instantly became known for providing unexpected comforts and amenities in remote destinations,” said Kent.
Between that, unrivaled experiences like having tea with Jane Goodall at her camp, and being the first travel company to bring destinations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, China and Tibet to the tourist, A&K went from safaris in Africa to immersive experiences without rival in every corner of the globe.
Geoffrey Kent in Kenya
Part of what makes A&K’s tours such an experience is that Kent has personally vetted the locations the company uses. The 76-year-old is still on the road more than 200 days a year. In fact, two of his most memorable travel adventures occurred last year.
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Geoffrey Kent in Finland
“I spent three years planning an Inspiring Expedition across Antarctica to the South Pole. In December 2018, we set out from Cape Town to Antarctica, and climbed a peak in the Drygalski Mountains to earn the right to name it and ventured all the way to the Geographic South Pole,” Kent said. “Earlier in the year, I led expedition in search of the Northern Lights around the Spring Equinox when they are at their most dramatic.”
This year Kent is excited to be planning another of the Inspiring Expeditions, this one to explore Ethiopia.
Through his connections from his army days, as a world-class polo player (he won the U.S. Championship in 1978) and his work as a business leader, Kent has made friends with, and personally guided many influential people on trips. He’s led Prince Charles on safari in Nepal, helped Richard Burton heal a broken heart after his split from Elizabeth Taylor while on safari in East Africa, and explored Paupa New Guinea with Lauren Hutton.
“I’ve traveled with many interesting people who have become friends,” said Kent. “The ones I find most interesting are the entrepreneurs, men like David Rockefeller, Ted Turner and Jeffrey Katzenberg,”
Throughout his years at A&K, Kent has been committed to preserving the land while helping out the local community.
“My philosophy is governed in equal parts by a commitment to conservation and the mission of providing the memories of a lifetime for our guests,” he said. “I believe that sustainable tourism is the best way to preserve places at risk because it gives local people an economic incentive to protect both habitat and wildlife. We have proven that in Uganda, where Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is now home to more than 400 endangered mountain gorillas up from less than 300 when the park was established in the early 1990’s.”
Kent has also served as President of the Prince of Wales Foundation in the U.S. and chairman of the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Despite having seen all corners of the globe, it’s Africa that holds Kent’s heart.
“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 seeping under your skin and staying with you long after leaving,” he explained. “Of course, the landscapes are spectacular, and the wildlife is amazing. But for me the quintessential African safari experience comes when the sun goes down, and you sit around a campfire sharing stories of the day’s adventures and reminiscing.”
“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 seeping under your skin and staying with you long after leaving,”
And certainly Kent brings enough amazing stories to last for a lifetime of campfires.
In celebration of Kent’s astonishing career, a stunning new suite has been designed in honor of the man who brought luxury to the safari. Sanctuary Olonana, the flagship property of Sanctuary Resorts, practices sustainability among its 14 luxe suites, and now you can enjoy the full luxe-safari experience in the Geoffrey Kent Suite. Modern design with floor-to-ceiling glass and a wrap-around patio with an infinity pool overlooking the Mara River in Kenya make this suite super contemporary with beautiful art, luxurious attached bathrooms with vessel tubs, the highest-quality bedding and Mid-century modern interiors. Materials sources locally are used through the resort and suite to celebrate the land and locale. A private chef, private bar, dedicated safari guide and your own vehicle round out this experience…so Geoffrey Kent!
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