Nearly 50 years ago, explorer Geoffrey Kent created Abercrombie & Kent in his native Kenya. Back then, the travel business was small and geared specifically toward Americans looking for high-end safari. Half a century later, Kent has earned a global reputation for his luxury mobile tent safaris. His target audience, however, is now the one million Chinese millionaires.
“What we’re trying to do with China is to try to understand the quirks of that particular nationality and design the product that suits their wants and needs,” he says. “Our 62 offices around the world are working to deliver a bespoke experience to the new Chinese traveler.” Kent literally goes to the ends of the earth to ensure his new Chinese guests have an unparalleled travel experience.
Kent just returned from guiding 11 ultra-wealthy Chinese men and their wives on a 2-week tour of Istanbul and Kenya, a trip that was both enviable and exhausting. “Well for starters they adore Europe and its cities,” he says, “but they don’t just want to visit those cities like any other tourist. When a wealthy Chinese goes to Paris, he doesn’t just want to visit the Louis Vuitton store, he wants it opened privately. He doesn’t just want to go to the Monaco Grand Prix, he wants to talk to the drivers.”
The Chinese, who traditionally live in cramped, urban areas, are now hungry for something even more illusive that European charm: they are clamoring to attend African safaris in the wide-open savannah, among exotic wilderness. The Chinese search for the exclusive means Kent’s work has been cut out for him.
“In the Masai Mara we didn’t just have guides who can speak Chinese. We’ve had Chinese guides in place for two years now, learning about the animals, often from me.”
A&K is still waiting on licenses to formally open for business in China, but Kent has already come to understand what makes the Chinese explorer unique. “What we found is that the Chinese like to do everything to the minute. When it was time to get up at 4am for a ballooning trip across the Mara, none of them was a single minute late. With the Americans, French or Italians there will be stragglers.” Food, he notes, is one area where they do not want to broaden their experiences. While on Safari in Kenya, Kent kept a Chinese chef on hand.
“We realized it’s wives and family that drive the holiday choices,” Kent said. “Their husbands works so hard, and they see them so little, it’s the wives that decide.” Each trip can cost anywhere from three hundred thousand to a million dollars.
photo credit: abercrombie & kent, africantoursonline