Tripping Out

Kayleigh Donahue Hodes | December 1, 2016 | Feature Features

John Spence's Aardvark Safaris merges with United Kingdom's luxe travel firm, Scott Dunn.
WANDERLUST John Spence is San Diego's go-to guy to arrange a one-of-a-kind vacation.

When it comes to selecting the person you’d entrust to plan your next vacation, it takes only five minutes to realize that following John Spence to the end of the Earth (and back) would guarantee an unforgettable travel experience. “I was an ill-educated outdoor-adventure person—I’m British and we encourage gap years to see the world,” explains Spence, the newly minted president of Scott Dunn USA. “I worked in France [as] a chalet boy; then I lived in Cape Town as a bartender and white-water raft guide; and eventually I decided that I was never going to be [one to wear a] suit—I wanted to be in the travel business.”

That realization translated into starting Aardvark Safaris in 1999—a tour company specializing in high-end, bespoke vacations to Africa. From luxe honeymoons to a traditional safari in the bush, Spence was the go-to guy for the experience. After many successful trips to Africa, Aardvark’s clients began requesting similar getaways to Europe and South America, but Spence—who books only vacations that he or someone on his staff has experienced firsthand—did not feel capable of offering the same level of service to every spot on the globe. “Ultimately, we did not want to grow unless we could be very good at it,” he recalls.

Only seven years after expanding Aardvark to Solana Beach, Spence has opted to sell the U.S. portion of his company to international travel giant Scott Dunn—all with the goal of finally fulfilling his clients’ global dreams. “The opportunity to join Scott Dunn gave us the team and business know-how necessary to provide the kind of service and trips our clients are used to… but on the global level that they’ve been asking for,” Spence says, nodding to the U.K. company’s success.

Longtime Aardvark patrons will be happy to see familiar faces, including Spence’s, in the new Scott Dunn office. “I personally called our 1000-plus clients to make sure they knew we weren’t being swallowed up by a bigger machine,” he explains. “[Joining together with] Scott Dunn is simply filling the gaps.”

In addition to the African adventures of years past, local jet-setters will now be able to book anything from a private polo match in Rajasthan to truffle hunting in France. All they have to do is call Spence—it’s now in his command.

Private guides, skiing in Europe, unoaked chardonnay, book clubs

Beards, group tours, designer luggage, shopping malls


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