What factors does a destination need to have to qualify for inclusion in an Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) itinerary?
Key factors we look for are extraordinary landscapes, a fascinating history and culture, opportunities to meet people and do things not just observe, unique and rare wildlife and an interesting cuisine. Of course, we want our clients to experience these elements in comfort and style and so we look for a robust tourist infrastructure with an established A&K presence, or that of a partner operator.
Talk us through the process of researching a destination and planning an itinerary.
Thanks to our network of 52 offices around the world, we are in the unique position of having eyes on the ground to make recommendations from first-hand experience of what to do, see and who to meet, connect with the right accommodation partners and transport providers – in short, to recommend the best ways of experiencing the place, at the right pace. An ensuing visit to the destination by an A&K Product Manager means trialling the ideas, researching more and reviewing all the possibilities to ensure our exacting standards are met.
Which destinations are becoming increasingly popular and why?
Portugal is hot at the moment thanks to its diversity, the hospitality of its people and their lifestyle. It has a rich design heritage, ancient walled towns and mountaintop palaces, it also has magical Mediterranean landscapes, delicious food, earthy wines and a sunny climate. For the first time visitor, we recommend a week-long stay taking in Lisbon, Sintra and Porto to get under the skin of the place and immerse yourself in its lifestyle.
The former Soviet Republics of Georgia and Armenia are emerging destinations where old world European charm meets extraordinary alpine landscapes and where magnificent churches are found in unexpected locations. What many people don’t know is that Georgia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity and has the world’s oldest wine industry. A new hosted small group journey takes in both countries on a 13 day expert led tour.
A&K visits some destinations that can be quite unpredictable such as Iran and West Africa. How do you ensure the safety of the guests while also providing authentic experiences?
A&K has always been a pioneer. We want our guests to be able to gain a better understanding of self and of the world as well as gaining lifelong memories and stories. Destinations like West Africa and Iran can fulfil that for our pioneer seeking guests. However, we take our duty of care to clients seriously and their safety is our number one priority. So, integral to our itinerary planning, is risk management to reduce the likelihood of risk but also to be ready to respond when a force majeure event occurs. Once again, our partner operators in these regions are there on the ground, in the destination. They are acutely aware of anything which may cause disquiet and keep us constantly up to date with local affairs. Our guides and drivers are thoroughly vetted and all undergo in-depth training to handle any situation.
A&K is famous for gaining exclusive access that other tour providers can’t. What are some of the most exceptional experiences that guests can have on an A&K tour?
Our guests are seeking true rarity. They see through the ambit claims of ‘special’, ‘exclusive’, ‘unique’ made by so many operators now in the hope of differentiating their itineraries. We aim to know our guests so we can really personalise their particular needs. Many of the experiences we facilitate are one-offs to meet those needs while others are included in our suggested itineraries. Some recent examples include:
A life-changing visit to Nakatindi village, near Livingstone, Zambia where guests experience the programmes supported there by A&K Philanthropy (AKP). These include initiatives in education, healthcare, social enterprise and conservation. First stop, the local school where AKP has invested in infrastructure, literacy, conservation education and a vegetable garden as well as the provision of lunch daily. Guests can then visit the clinic before heading to the AKP supported Chipego Bike Shop to meet the women who run the enterprise, hear about the positive impact being achieved and then head out on a bike trip through the surrounding countryside or to Victoria Falls.
Dinner under the stars at Little Petra with a traditional Nabatean welcome. Guests are escorted by flares along a walkway of Bedouin rugs to the haunting notes of an Arabic flute. A table is set in the middle of a canyon surrounded by mountains and traditional Jordanian fare served up under the desert sky. Be welcomed as friends for dinner with an Uzbek family in Samarkand. Learn to make plov, a typical Uzbek dish of spiced rice and lamb, with the mistress of the house and dine with the family in a vine-covered courtyard – a rich cultural exchange and first-hand experience of day-to-day life in Uzbekistan.
We believe that travel has the power to make the traveller a better person AND make the world a better place. For this to happen, the interaction of our guests with the places they visit and people they meet must be meaningful for both. The content of what we do, see and meet in our guests’ itineraries are designed with this in mind. From an environment perspective we try to minimise our footprint and choose sustainable local partners who demonstrate robust environmental awareness. In Africa, for example, our lodge and camp portfolio Sanctuary Retreats has a strong commitment to conservation and responsible tourism and ensures long-lasting, meaningful relationships with the communities in the areas where they operate.
In the polar regions where the ecosystems are fragile, we choose small expeditionary vessels which have clean-ship certification and the latest environmental practices and technology. Our expeditions exceed environmental protocol in these regions and we encourage guests to participate in important conservation efforts.
How does A&K give back to the communities in which you operate?
A&K Philanthropy (AKP) was established in 1982 to raise funds for conservation efforts in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Today there are 34 projects in 18 countries across the world which are a result of strong partnerships in each individual community with commitments to conservation, education, health and social enterprise. Our guests have the opportunity to visit these projects and support them through AKP, now a registered charity in Australia.
An A&K tour through Antarctica
Alistair Scott, A&K