How Abercrombie & Kent add value to travel

Its tough being in the travel business these days. Leading UK travel agency Thomas Cook reported a loss of almost £400 million last year, announced plans to close 200 stores and saw its share price dive by 75%.

So how has Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) managed to survive and even thrive, and this with an upmarket, premium offer? Some clues to their success come in a fascinating interview with founder and CEO Geoffrey Kent in the Times.

Screen Shot 2012-04-27 at 18.52.571. Leadership from the top

Abercrombie & Kent is a good example of a "Founder Brand", where the founder of the business still has a hands-on role. The power of this model is that the CEO is a living, breathing emodiment of the brand. This can help engage people inside the business and create a distinctive image for consumers.

Despite being 70 years old, founder and CEO Geoffrey Kent has no plans to retire, saying “I'm going to give it everything I’ve got as long as I can. This is my life.” Indeed, this is a leader who truly leads by example. The report reveals that "He spends about 300 days a year travelling, much of it researching new destinations or leading escorted journeys." And he is playing a key role in driving growth in emerging markets like China, personally taking a group of 15 Chinese billionaires to Kenya, explaining that  “I took them myself because I wanted to see how they interact and understand their needs."

2. Distinctive customer experience

In contrast to most travel firms, who have become increasingly online and “transactional”, A&K's offer is built on offering a personal touch to people ready to pay more for this service. As Kent says, “Our product is very diffuse after all these years. You track a gorilla one day, you can do whitewater rafting on the Zambezi two days later. That’s not something you can book easily online.” Most of A&K’s customers book their holidays face-to-face or over the phone.

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3. New routes to consumer

Whilst most travel firms are closing down physical outlets, A&K is going the opposite and opening travel agencies. They opened their first super-exclusive "private travel bureau" in Harrods two years ago. The plan is to open additional outlets in exclusive locations in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Monaco and Sao Paulo. This is way of further enhancing the personal service offered to high spending clients, as Kent explains. “Someone coming to see us in Harrods might be spending $400,000 (some holiday!). They’re worried about safety, they want to no the best time to go somewhere, who to phone when something goes wrong”.

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In conclusion, Abercrombie & Kent shows that even in times of a recession a premium priced brand can succeed, provided it has a truly distinctive proposition, led by example from the top.