‘We had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.’ – Jack Kerouac
‘We had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.’ – Jack Kerouac
The story of Journeys by Design begins far earlier than its inception in 1999. My parents move to Africa in 1969, during the Biafran War.
My father’s work for the Red Cross and Save the Children mean we move around a lot. As a result, my sisters and I are lucky enough to be raised in six African countries, one being Kenya, where we live in the Ngong Forest, Nairobi. An extraordinary back garden, the forest is a daily source of great adventure, had with my dog Nimrod.
My first big wildlife adventure as a young adult is in India, where I go on a Muir Scholarship to study tiger in Kanha National Park. It’s here that I work with Tara the Elephant, owned by my lifelong hero, the late Mark Shand.
Having trained as an environmental scientist, I have to confess that the last thing I wanted to do – once I’d graduated – was don a suit and try my luck in the city. Instead, I head out to Ethiopia, where I’d spent a great deal of my childhood. Here, I first work on a community education programme with the Afar and Isas in Awash National Park.
Travelling the country, I stumble across some of Ethiopia’s last remaining natural forest on the shores of Lake Langano. I spend the next three years living in a tent, helping start the country’s first community-managed nature reserve. As shared elsewhere, it’s the making of me. It gives me the confidence to pursue my Journeys by Design dreams.
After Ethiopia, I head to Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, where I cut my rhino guiding teeth hosting walking safaris. In 1999, I return to the UK to marry Laura Marshall-Andrews, who I had fallen in love with at university, and is training to be a doctor. Again, I refuse to put a tie on, preferring to set up Journeys by Design from my brother-in-law’s bedroom.
Ending in a landmark piece (at least for us) in the Financial Times, I am asked to guide Lucia van der Post and the FT to explain and explore the role of farms in the central highlands of Kenya – and in particular their novel mixed land use conservation projects.
Journeys by Design is rated a top ten super agent by the FT. Equally memorably, we host the late AA Gill and the Sunday Times on a trip to attend the official burial of Emperor Haile Selassie, and guide Mark Roosevelt in the footsteps of his grandfather in Katavi National Park.
This is the year we break into the US, courtesy of a Departures Magazine piece on Paul Tudor Jones’s new Grumeti Reserves. The story generates an extraordinary $1 million in sales, I begin the first of my annual walkabouts to America, and we’re delighted to learn that British Airways has nominated one of our trips for Best Safari in the World.
Unbelievably, we’re ten years old.
Pioneering the use of helicopters in Ethiopia, we open up hidden corners of an already niche destination. We host Horatio Claire and Vanity Fair in Ethiopia, the resulting piece – Rock of Ages – winning Conde Nast Traveler’s best travel article of the year.
Having flown to New York to meet with Ralph and Ricky Lauren, I host the family in Kenya. Behind the travel operator scenes, we launch Nomadic Professionals, which is designed to support philanthropic endeavours. We help manage Oldonyo Laro for Paul Allen – and raise $1 million for charities globally.
We auction a safari off for ARK worth $950,000, a world first. A truly life changing event, I am increasingly cognisant of the well-done safari as perfect catalyst and support for wider sustainable development.
First-time travellers to Africa’s wildernesses begin by imagining the animals they will see. Their memories are always of the people they meet along the way. These host communities – very often remote and traditional cultures – are celebrated in this year’s brochure Cultures on the Move. This is also the first year that we’re nominated a Conde Nast Global Specialist – something we have had every year since.
We’re 15 years old – and celebrate with a birthday brochure.
We set up the world’s first luxury mobile camp in the Danakil Depression, where we host Stanley Stewart and Conde Nast Traveler. It’s in this year that we launch Wild Philanthropy. Teaming up with Roland Purcell, our first project protecting chimpanzee sees Sophy Roberts and the Financial Times visit Ntakata Forest. I am lucky enough to squeeze onto Conde Nast Traveler’s list of 50 Most Influential Travelers to Know.
A year of change, we move into Africa House, set up our social enterprise investment vehicle Wild Enterprise, and bring out our Change brochure, call-to-action in the name of Africa’s increasingly fragile at-risk ecosystems and champion of the conservation game-changers that have served as leading lights for everything we do. We finance the $50,000 translocation of one black rhino from South Africa to Botswana.
I am honoured be made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. We bring out our Experiences brochure. Most importantly, we buy Lumale Tours and refit and re-brand it as frontier specialist mobile camp Wild Expeditions. Part-owned by Ethiopian nationals, it is designed to help support vulnerable communities and at-risk ecosystems.
Journeys by Design breaks the $6 million mark for monies raised for charity. On Pride weekend, we open Africa House to the public, our coffeeshop and events space designed to welcome all, especially refugees and migrants. At the same time, we open Lale’s Camp, Ethiopia’s first seasonal luxury tented camp. Finally, Wild Philanthropy publishes its first impact report.
We’re 20 years old. No time to rest. We arrange for Lale Biwa to travel to the UK and US to raise funds for the Kara Community Farm. Wild Expeditions breaks even in its fourth year. JbD has its best year ever. Owing to the confusion of too many ‘wilds’ in the names of our organisations, we rename Wild Enterprise ‘Tekula Capital‘ and bring all four organisations – JbD, WP, Tekula Capital, and the coffeeshop – under one umbrella: the Africa House Group.
Covid-19 hits the UK travel industry February. In April, we launch the African Tourism Crisis Fund to support rangers and camp staff jobs and raise just over $100,000. Using the time to refine JbD, we introduce the RARE safari, lay out our five-year plan, and declare a climate emergency. In December, we replace the African Tourism Crisis Fund with the African Travel Recovery Fund.
While good news abounds with regards to Covid-19 vaccines, the challenge of rolling them out means travel continues to be dictated by appetites for risk, by lockdowns, and by open border protocols. We adapt and replace the Friends of Wild Philanthropy programme with our Donor Traveller programme. In September, we are devastated by the sudden death of Angela Sacha, who has been with the company since 2005. We set up the Angela Sacha Conservation Fund.
Angela’s death and surviving Covid triggers a year of change and doubling down on our approach. Keen to push the meaningful frontier travel envelope, we welcome pro guides Kenya-based Squack Evans and Botswana-based Kyle de Nobrega and their client operations support Mij Evans and Kim Lincoln onto the team. We double down on our efforts in west and Saharan Africa, particularly in Sao Tome, Gabon, ROC, CAR, and Chad.
The Covid bounce back affords us one of the best years in business. The refined business model, which as well including professional guides sees half of the sales team working out of either Kenya and Botswana, seems to be working a treat. Marketing is joined by the mighty Jenna Gradidge and Finance by the equally mighty Sandiso Sandibe. Our push west continues, particularly in Benin and Togo. We are the first operator to be invited by NGO African Parks into South Sudan.