Sabi Phagura Talks To Henry Cookson About Luxury Adventures

Sabi Phagura Talks To Henry Cookson About Luxury Adventures

Cookson Adventures has pioneered the concept of world firsts in luxury adventure travel since 2009. From organising the first manned submersible dive in Antarctica to carrying out crucial conservation work in the Galápagos Islands, the company is putting luxury at the heart of extraordinary journeys.

Henry Cookson, the company’s founder, is a dedicated adventurer and a Guinness World Record holder for the first expedition to the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility. He also guided ‘Walking With The Wounded’, the charitable expedition to the North Pole supported by Prince Harry.

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LM: Tell us how and when did you first discover you had an adventurous streak in you?
HC: After leaving school, I travelled to Kenya to work as a guide on a riding safari. Although I embraced the experience and had the most fantastic time, I don’t think I realised the lasting impression it left on me. I went back to the normality of living in the UK and started to go down the expected path; I attended university and then fell into a banking job in the city. But that exploring ‘itch’ needed scratching – I longed to be back riding around the planes of Africa, interacting with the wildlife, including some of the world’s most endangered species, and learning from Maasai elders about their tribal ancestry. It was a humbling experience, and it was the catalyst that made me realise I wanted to do things that challenged the norm.

LM: How do you overcome challenges on such trips?
HC: I take a view that there are two things that can make or break a trip. Firstly, planning is crucial, and having a methodological approach to such trips. Though I go into extreme environments, they’re not necessarily dangerous if approached in the right way. We often do unusual and complicated trips, so things do crop up and plans do change, but you adapt. You just have to prepare and have the right equipment and be resilient to obstacles; if something doesn’t go according to plan, then you deal with it as it comes about. With that attitude, I’ve always found expeditions to be hugely enjoyable.

Secondly, it’s key to have the right people around you, so you have a positive outlook on challenging situations. If someone goes into something with a negative approach and you’re with a group of people in very close proximity for a long time, then that can be detrimental. But the people that we attract and who come to us share a vision, whether they know it or not, of wanting to do real things.

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LM: You have been on some amazing expeditions – what was the most memorable?
HC: Luckily enough, this is a very hard one for me to answer. Certainly, one of my most memorable was a 1,100-mile expedition to the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility, for which we won a Guinness World Record. At our destination, we found a bust of Lenin, fixed to the chimney of a Russian-built hut, a reminder of a previous Soviet expedition in 1958. And, perhaps while I am best known for my polar expeditions, I have had a long-standing love affair with Africa, and have had many memorable trips on this continent as well. From a more leisurely point of view, I’ll never forget scuba diving with 40ft long whale sharks.

LM: How did you go from being a record-breaking polar adventurer to running a luxury adventure travel company?
HC: I have always had a hankering for the ‘great outdoors’ and my banking career was very short-lived as a result. I consider it to be a three-year ‘thinking period’ until I found out what I really wanted to do. That said, the polar challenges seemed out of my comfort zone when we took them on, but we realised we were rather good at them! Afterwards, many of my friends were asking me about how they could do things similar to that. So, I started to organise trips for them, and this grew through word of mouth. I never intended to start a business from this, but I was just following my heart in finding exciting adventures in places that very few people have been to. From there I knew what I wanted to do – take people to the most remote places on the planet, and to do it with style and elegance.

LM: What has been the secret to Cookson Adventures’ success?
HC: To be honest, there was no plan or business strategy, it was pretty instinctive in the beginning and very organic; I was just doing what I felt was right. I’ve always been curious and had an interest in capturing other people’s stories, so the combination of skills and information that I’ve picked up over the years lends itself well to working with clients who are not held back by a lack of resources and want to do something genuinely different and imaginative.

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The key is delving beneath the surface and working out the best way to do a project for each particular individual or group. We don’t follow the masses, we don’t say, “That’s how it’s always been done so we’ll follow that path”. We assess how we can go back to basics, personalising each experience to do something remarkable.

LM: You recently changed the name – tell us about that.
HC: We have recently adapted our brand name to reflect that the company, for a while now, has been more than about me. Long are the days gone when I was involved in every process. You may be surprised at the size of the team considering we deliver between 15 – 25 trips a year, but I guess that shows the level of detail and personalisation we go to for each and every trip. What was Henry Cookson Adventures is now simply Cookson Adventures. The new brand, identity and website (cooksonadventures.com) reflect the company’s expanding global offering and longer-term ambition to deliver an even greater variety of requests and experiences.

LM: What are the challenges you face when organising trips for demanding clients?
HC: The challenges are innumerable and varied, but that is what makes the business we do so interesting. I have a staff of incredible problem-solvers, who ensure that clients’ demands are met at all stages of trip development. It is a combination of experience, and this resourcefulness sets us apart in offering unique and memorable trips. Interestingly, even though our experiences typically come at a price point in excess of what most people could spend, our clients are investing in ultra-luxury and often life-changing adventures. However, they are also not frivolous and do not want to pay over the odds for any element of their trip. So, we have to ensure that we are delivering the best experiences possible – the level of luxury can be tailored, but the experience is always at the core of what we do, whilst delivering our clients value for money.

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LM: What is the most exciting adventure that you’re currently working on?
HC: We’ve got some really interesting wildlife-focused trips in Antarctica, particularly around the Antarctic Peninsula. There’s a perception of Antarctica as being a cold, remote and bleak landscape with horrific conditions, but people are often pleasantly surprised that the temperatures are something that you might experience on a European skiing holiday.

We’ve done some very interesting ‘world firsts’ down in Antarctica in the past, such as launching the first privately-manned commercial submersible dive, and we are doing research with scientists to broaden the scope of these experiences. We’re aiming to engage families in this research, giving them a full, immersive 360-degree experience.

LM: Is there anything you would not do/draw a line with?
HC: I would draw the line at anything that might endanger the environment and we stick rigidly to that mantra, often going out of our way to helping with global conservation efforts. For example, we’ve done big projects with local authorities in the Galapagos Islands, releasing juvenile giant tortoises back into the wild.

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We’re all aware that there are environmental issues that need urgent attention, but it’s easy to have a disassociation with it. However, when you see animals in their environment interacting with each other it’s impossible not to connect. We’re striving to give more people an awareness of what’s going on around the world.

LM: What destinations are proving popular at the moment?
HC: Polar regions by yacht, Antarctica and the Arctic are certainly a region that people are realising they can access more easily than before. But it is a very regulated area because environmentally you have to be absolutely impeccable. Bringing all of the parts of a trip together, therefore, takes a vast amount of work and this is where our tremendous network of some of the world’s most knowledgeable people comes in. We’re working with experts in a number of fields, such as scientists, marine biologists, conservationists, and award-winning photographers, in order to carefully refine the details of the trips to the clients’ requirements but, most importantly, also in accordance with the strict rules that govern the area. Sometimes these projects are planned over the course of 18 months, however, we turn around some adventures far quicker than this, as long as we are inside any permitting cut-off dates.

LM: What other trends are you seeing in the travel industry? 
HC: There’s certainly more of an appetite for adventure experiences and there’s a lot of talk about getting out there, contributing to conservation efforts and doing something more meaningful. That’s something that’s very close to my heart so it has been a focus for Cookson over the last decade. Ultimately, we’ve always just done what we enjoy doing. It just happens that this sort of experience is only now getting much more attention.

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LM: What’s next for Cookson Adventures? 
HC: In the coming months, we have a number of very exciting trips planned for our clients. While I can’t diverge much of the details yet, each trip has been designed to respond to a real thirst for learning, travelling to places they have never been to and meeting new people. One trip, soon to be revealed, is playing a part in finding a lost civilisation in South America, and we are also working on experiences around free diving, where people can get very close to marine life in a safe environment. Otherwise, we will continue to operate at the highest level of innovation within the travel space, carving out our own niche of personalised adventure.

Cookson Adventures – Where and How?

For more information on Cookson Adventures visit: cooksonadventures.com.

Henry Cookson interview by Sabi Phagura

Editorial Team

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