Pioneering African Travel

07 May 2019
4 min read
FOUR speaks to CEO of Ker and Downey® Africa, Lee Kelsall, to find out more about how they are changing the game in Africa luxury travel.

Tell us a bit about the history of Ker and Downey® Africa?

Ker & Downey was founded in Kenya in 1946 by Syd Downey and Donald Ker. In fact, the original company still operates there to this day. Over the years the company evolved, branching out to destinations such as Tanzania and Botswana and with time, split into individual companies each retaining the Ker & Downey brand. Our company, Ker & Downey® Africa, is based in Cape Town and operates as an inbound tour operator catering to international clients traveling to Africa, whether they book direct or via a travel agent.

How and why did you get into this line of work?

I studied law at Cambridge University and spent 10 years working in corporate law in London. During the financial crisis, my law firm offered a 3 month sabbatical to everyone so I took the opportunity to travel to Kenya which ignited my love for African travel and the bush. A few years down the line I jumped at the opportunity to move to Cape Town to head up the online retail division of Ker & Downey® Africa and I haven’t looked back since!

What are the key elements that make Ker & Downey® Africa’s experiences so different?

Over the last few years, we’ve been investing heavily in the development of our LuxVenture® Experience category – our once in a lifetime adventure focused trips that push our client’s boundaries and feature unique experiences and untouched destinations. When you take the time to understand why it is that people seek out the corners of the earth that they do, you find that travel isn’t just about comfortable pillows and fine silverware. People travel to find themselves, to push their boundaries and to create memories that last. For that reason, each of our LuxVenture® Experiences has been designed to challenge, to connect and to enable our clients to leave their own personal legacy in Africa.

How do you select your travel destinations?

Being in the luxury travel industry means that compromises can’t be made on the standard of service or luxury. This largely dictates the destinations that we are willing to sell confidently to our high-end clients. We also strongly believe in specializing in areas that we know like the back of our hands and where we have tried and tested all aspects of our offering.

Tell us more about some of your favorite Ker & Downey® Africa travel experiences that you offer?

My personal favourite is our 18 Day Private Jet LuxVenture® that really offers guests the best of Africa in under three weeks. The trip starts in Rwanda where you track silverback mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and stay at the exclusive Bisate Lodge. Next, you fly to Botswana’s Okavango Delta for an entirely new big 5 safari experience – mokoro safaris, helicopter safaris, the works. Your trip ends on the coast of Mozambique, at Azura Benguerra, where you can unwind and enjoy some barefoot luxury before heading back home.

Our Diamond Diving LuxVenture® in South Africa is also an utterly unique experience which takes you to an exclusive diving location by private jet where you then salvage your own diamonds on the ocean bed of the West Coast. The selling point of this LuxVenture® is the fact that you get to keep your best find and convert it into a bespoke piece of jewelry. Your trip continues in the Cape Winelands at the Delaire Graff Estate, owned by Graff Diamonds themselves. Here you are treated to a private tour of their diamond and fine art collection and then your last days in South Africa are spent on Leobo Private Reserve for your classic safari experience.

What is it about Ker & Downey® Africa that has made it such a success?

We are very lucky to have a team of passionate individuals who have created a company culture that thrives when delivering the very best safari experiences to our clients – our success was a natural product of our company values and ethics. Whether a consultant, a designer or an accountant, each employee at Ker & Downey® Africa has a keen interest in luxury travel, adventure and Africa in general. I believe we also foster an environment in which people are encouraged to think creatively about travel and to act with our clients best interests at heart. That relentless focus on improving a customer’s experience and a genuine passion for luxury, adventure and travel has proven to be a winning formula.

Tell us about some of the greatest milestones Ker & Downey has managed to achieve?

The launch of our LuxVenture® expeditions was a great milestone for the company as it manifested a key differentiator between us and our competitors. It also marked a shift in our mindset from crafting classic safari experiences, to truly out of this word trips.

Another exciting moment for us was the introduction of our New Frontiers – African destinations targeted at the more adventurous, second-time-around African traveler. Remote, less commercialized African countries are becoming increasingly popular and with the opening of luxury properties in these parts of Africa, we have been able to send clients to Madagascar, Morocco, Namibia and Malawi.

What’s next?

With the launch of our first private jet safari in 2018, we are committed to expanding our collection of Private Jet Safaris across Africa in 2020. This will be a new standard for the high net worth individuals who prefer to travel on their own time.

With world-class beach destinations such as Mozambique, Mauritius, and Seychelles in our reach – we will also be expanding our expertise to Yachting LuxVenture® Expeditions this year, so that is also something to look forward to.


Bitten by the travel bug? Head over to Ker and Downey® Africa’s website to find out more about their luxury African travel adventures, as well as take a look at their bespoke Diamond Diving LuxVenture® and 18 Day Private Jet Safari offerings.