Catching Up With Abercrombie And Kent Founder

09.09.16

Abercrombie and Kent’s hallmark brand of tailor-made travel is being applied to the world of luxury real estate. Laura Henderson catches up with company Founder and CEO Geoffrey Kent - the man making it all happen.

Geoffrey Kent has the bright eyed, bushy tailed sprightliness of a man half his age. A red-eye flight from London to JFK followed by a pentathlon stint of back-to-back meetings in Manhattan would make even the hardiest of entrepreneur’s wince at the prospect. But for the 72-year old visionary behind the world’s leading luxury travel company – stamina is merely a resource to channel in the cut and thrust world of staying ahead of the game.

It was fifty years ago that Kent together with his parents John and Valerie founded Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) as a safari company in East Africa. Their first journeys, conducted with little more than a refrigerated truck and a silver ice bucket, set the style for every A&K journey that followed: authentic, inspiring and organised down to the last detail by their expert local teams.

Today holidaymakers can sample the bespoke luxury A&K adventure travel experience in over 100 countries, and, across all seven continents. Local guides bring each stop on the journey to life with their intimate knowledge of the culture, history and wildlife of each destination. Backing them is a network of local offices, whose close relationships with hotels, game reserves and historic sites enable the company’s one-of-a-kind insider access opportunities.

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“As the world gets smaller, travellers become more particular in how they spend their leisure time,” he comments. “We respond with a constantly evolving portfolio that caters to the needs of today's wanderlust escapees. Whether it’s a classic Mediterranean villa or an extreme mountain trekking adventure, the company is ready to deliver a tailor-made service.”

Today as the head of the A&K Group of Companies, Kent brings an extraordinary lifetime of experience, innovation and passion to the role. The business, he explains, built its award-winning reputation by being “the first to bring unexpected comforts and amenities to remote destinations”. Luxurious accommodations, safety standards, unique and proprietary modes of transport, and insider access experiences are all part of the luxury cocoon formula.

Kent's life began, really, much as he lives it today - amid excitement and adventure in an exotic location. He was born while his parents were on safari in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Growing up on the family farm in the Aberdare Highlands of Kenya, Kent's eventful childhood was spent in the splendour and drama of untamed Africa. He attended the then-new Duke of York School in Nairobi, which would ultimately produce many of Kenya's business and science leaders.

 

At the age of 16, he undertook an initial solitary exploration of the African continent that would in many ways come to define the course of his life. On this momentous two-month trek, Kent became the first individual to travel by motorbike the 5,000 often-treacherous miles between Nairobi, Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa.

A distinguished career in the armed forces followed – one that was sadly cut short as a result of hearing damage from years spent in heavy tanks.

Back in Kenya, the irrepressibly energetic Kent joined his parents in founding Abercrombie & Kent as a luxury safari operation. By 1967, his parents retired and he moved full bore into turning A&K into the internationally renowned luxury travel powerhouse that it is today introducing experiences now considered the best in travel.

Now Kent is getting his teeth into a new venture, Abercrombie & Kent International Estates. The new business will market and sell exclusive residential properties from around the world, including private homes and resort residences. Leveraging Abercrombie & Kent's brand, service, reputation and global connections to seek out and market unique and special properties, the business will focus on service, and for that reason it intends to only market a select number of unique residential properties and developments from around the world.

“A&K provides the perfect platform to market luxury properties to discerning individuals worldwide,” he explains. “There are many synergies between luxury travel and high end second home ownership and this expansion has been on our agenda for a number of years, so I'm delighted to make it a reality."

A little over a year in and the company has more than US$1 billion of property in its portfolio, offering its clients some of the most exclusive homes for sale around the world. “Every home or resort residence has been carefully selected to suit its clients' needs, whether they are looking for an investment opportunity, a lifestyle purchase or a combination of the two,” he adds. “People work all their lives, they want to see and do as much as possible. It’s no different with real estate – exceeding expectations is what it’s all about.”

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Abercrombie and Kent’s roots are in East Africa – will AKIE have a similar standout presence in this part of the world?

East Africa is synonymous with the A&K brand and is a wonderful holiday destination. Property is on our radar, but we have to make sure that we choose locations which we know are safe and have good security. We have already taken on the Billionaire Resort in Malindi, Kenya which is very secure and has been selling extremely well and with personal knowledge of the area and the developer I decided to buy an apartment too.

How do you see the luxury end of the global residential tourism market evolving over the next ten years?

We are seeing a gradual improvement but we are still a long way off the pre-credit crunch days. The British have for many years been a key source of buyers in this market and it is taking them time to have confidence to return to the market. We are instead seeing higher numbers of international buyers from China, Russia, India, Africa, Brazil and Switzerland in particular. This trend is likely to continue with the very prime market appealing to wealthy buyers from emerging markets and buyers from within Europe seeking attractive price deals on properties closer to home.

Where do you see the AKIE brand positioned within this?

We want to be right at the top. Our customers already know what to expect when they take an A&K holiday or rent an A&K Villa and they will expect the same in terms of quality of product and level of service through our real estate division. We are highly selective of the properties and developments we take on and although not entirely price driven we are driven by the quality of the product, the location and its “wow factor”- what makes it unique and special.

How has the recession affected the positioning of A&K’s International Estates division in what is a very competitive global market place?

We wanted to enter the market just before the market started to properly recover in the UK; and since our 1st year’s anniversary (23rd September 2013) we have seen enquiries and transactions picking up. Developers choose us because we are different from many mainstream real estate companies and because our global network is wholly owned by A&K (we are not a franchise). We offer a unique service and our ability to provide comprehensive services around property sales, such as travel (important for buyers to travel to their development several times during construction if off-plan but also after they take ownership), villa rental service and now concierge too.

What expansion plans are in store in the coming year?

A&K is looking to open a series of Private Travel offices and Travel Boutiques (retail stores) in key destinations around the world - following the success of our city boutique in London and our private travel office in Monaco. This plan will start with Abu Dhabi and we have identified Dubai, Moscow and Sao Paolo as likely destinations to expand to next. As the business grows, we will also look to expand the team in overseas destinations. The key thing for us is to establish a solid business first and build from there.

Abode Affiliates

  • Touch Design Group
  • Crane Resorts
  • The Highland Club
  • Rosemont Consulting
  • Select Villas
  • The Hideaways Club
  • Lida Cucina
  • Habitat First Group
  • Cyan International Properties
  • La Balise Marina
  • Costa Rica Real Estate Service
  • Blevins Franks
  • Edenhurst
  • Oyster Yachts
  • Heron Real Estate
  • Ultra Villa
  • Yoo
  • Little Projects
  • St Edward
  • Pedini London
  • Luxury Italian Living
  • Las Colinas
  • London Fractions
  • Moore Stephen
  • Coldwell Banker
  • Ibiza Transit Express
  • Dost & Co
  • Jumeirah
  • Premium
  • Alexander James
  • Prestige Dubai
  • Destinology
  • Unique Home Stays
  • Worldwide Dream Villas
  • Gama Property
  • FOC
  • MG&AG
  • RDO
  • Alleyne Real Estate
  • Monaco Real Estates
  • Wall Street Luxury
  • Wings
  • My Bermuda House
  • St Francis Links
  • BDO
  • Enigma Yachts Limited
  • CID
  • Cornerstone Tax Advisors
  • 7Storeys
  • Lampert & Harper
  • Knight Frank

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