People watching African wildlife near their hotel with illustrated details around them

How Abercrombie & Kent Marries Luxury "Experiential" Travel With Philanthropy

On its 60th anniversary, A&K's dedication to experiences is stronger than ever

Sam Anderson of the New York Times wrote it better than I ever could: "To meet them would be a chance to look mass extinction in the face."

And, as I stared into the face of 33-year-old Najin, one of just two northern white rhinoceros left in the world today, and her 23-year-old daughter, Fatu, I not only fully grasped the gravitas of Anderson's words but also the very definition of "experiential travel."

Identified as a "trend" by the New York Times way back in 2019, experiential travel is centered around the shift toward buying memories, rather than things, while on vacation—a departure from picking up a tie-dye sweatshirt at a beach-front tchotchke shop or a shot glass at a Hard Rock Café. But while the vocabulary word may have only entered most travelers' lexicons within the past few years, it's an art that Abercrombie & Kent—the stayed luxury adventure travel company that boasts trips to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, all rooted in custom itineraries and small-group journeys—has been perfecting for more than half a century now.

Illustrated facts about Abercrombie & Kent over top of people on a safari

Photo: Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent; Illustration: TripSavvy / Julie Bang

Celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2022, the company has chalked up many "firsts" in its existence—its founder, Geoffrey Kent, was the first to reposition the safari experience as "shoot with a camera, not with a gun." Later, it introduced the first mobile tented safaris with refrigeration, making it possible to have fresh meals (and ice) in the bush. Eventually, Abercrombie & Kent became the first international tour operator in China.

Not surprisingly, Kent's drive to create his ambitious company came about from an experience of his own: a two-month-long, 3,000-mile motorbike trek between Nairobi and Cape Town, completed at the tender age of 16. Subsequent military deployments in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Malta furthered Kent's passion for exploration. Upon his parent's retirement in 1967, Abercrombie & Kent was fully committed to becoming a company that enables and empowers travelers to discover the world around them—in exacting style, too.

My experience with Najin and Fatu occurred in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre non-profit wildlife conservancy in Central Kenya's Laikipia County. I was on safari with A&K, where my full days consisted of horseback riding in the rhino enclosure, watching tenacious bloodhounds show off their poacher-tracking skills, and joining a ranger from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy to track lions, before retiring for the night to Sanctuary Tambarare, the company's newest tented camp, which opened on June 1, 2022.

While on some trips, guests stay at hotels you might have heard of—Fairmont The Norfolk and Giraffe Manor frequently show up on Kenyan itineraries—Abercrombie & Kent's ownership of luxury lodges in the wilderness is a major distinguishing factor from other outfitters and another tactic that ensures your "experience" doesn't end outside the hands of their skilled drivers and guides.

At Sanctuary Tambarare, whose name means "plains" in Swahili, 10 permanent tents overlook a grassy plateau where wildlife is frequently spotted. (An unfortunate water buffalo met its demise near the camp's kitchen one night during my stay.) But, as it's the only luxury stay option within the confines of Ol Pejeta, you're never roughing it—each airy tent has a private veranda, while the main tent is filled with sofas and chairs and open to the boma, encouraging guests to stay and read a book or linger over a cup of mint tea.

Guests who travel with Abercrombie & Kent, however, aren't only interested in luxury—they, and the company, want to make sure that "experiences" aren't at the expense of the places they're visiting. This is a vital tenet of the company through its philanthropic arm, Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, which has embarked on 46 projects in 24 countries and employs eight full-time coordinators.

Thanks to that arm of the company, my trip was so much more than just game drives and sundowners, as fantastic as all that was. I spent an afternoon at Ruirie Primary School, where bubbly elementary school students drank their first clean water at school, part of A&K's Safe Water for Schools Initiative in Kenya, a program that gives schools a $400 LifeStraw community filter that provides up to 26,000 gallons of clean drinking water. Since the program's launch in 2017, more than 16,000 students have gained access to drinkable water, all through the portable filtration system that removes 99.9999 percent of bacteria, viruses, and protozoan parasites.

People walking with a guide near a rhino

Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent

At Enkereri Primary School, situated on the Oloololo Escarpment adjacent to the Masai Mara, A&K's efforts ensure that 360 students now have access to clean water and receive daily school lunches. But these efforts aren't just window-dressing provided by wealthy donors. I walked through each project alongside Pippa Strong, the head of product for Abercrombie & Kent East and Southern Africa, and Paul Bauer, Abercrombie & Kent's regional managing director for Southern and East Africa. The duo was meticulous—making sure that filters given to schools worked properly, evaluating the size of a newly-built school kitchen's serving window, and pushing school staff and administrators to be vocal about further needs and wants.

As Bauer later explained to me over dinner in the opulent Geoffrey Kent Suite at Sanctuary Olonana, Abercrombie & Kent wouldn't be who it is today with its people, many of whom have worked for the company for years, if not decades, and often grew up in the immediate villages surrounding the camps. For Abercrombie & Kent, its people create the experiences.

On the long journey home, I thought back to my experience with the rhinos at Ol Pejeta, which was tremendously moving and, to be frank, slightly devastating. Still, it also left me feeling hopeful when I considered it within the larger context of my trip. While those primordial giants are likely it for their subspecies, I couldn't help but think that companies like Abercrombie & Kent—its guides and employees, and the communities it serves—are providing guests with the experiences and knowledge to ensure we all fight against making those same mistakes again.