John Harvey talks about his move to St. Petersburg and the future of travel 

After months of staying inside, watching a global pandemic unfold, people are ready to start planning for future travels.

The Wall Street Journal reported that while major international vacations were canceled this year bucket list, luxury travel planning for 2021 and 2022 is on the rise.

International travel expert John Harvey agrees and understands that niche market. He recently expanded his company, Opulent Travel, to St. Petersburg, in addition to his Northamptonshire office in England.

TBBW caught up with Harvey, in his office, in the BB&T building, on Central Avenue, in downtown St. Pete. Here’s what he had to say about the future of the travel industry.

You moved to the United States about eight months ago now. What made you choose Florida as a destination?   

First, why wouldn’t anyone choose Florida as a destination? It is a great part of the world and my family loves living in Saint Petersburg. But from a commercial point of view, it made sense to at least put myself on the same continent as my client base to allow me to connect more closely and grow the company, which I launched in 2008 in the United Kingdom.

How are sales going? 

Our U.S. business has been very strong, with total revenues of over $5 million since we opened a virtual office six years ago. However, since relocating the business to the U.S., with a physical presence here in Tampa Bay, I expect future growth to be exponential over the next three years. I’m ambitiously aiming to double the size of my business.

You were born in England and traveled the world at an early age. With a mom from Jamaica and a dad from the U.K., your adventures have taken you from the Caribbean to Africa. Where do you feel most at home?

Growing up, my father’s career took us to a different country every two years, throughout the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Over the years, I have enjoyed some incredible experiences whilst traveling the world, but perhaps one of the most memorable was an overland trip from London to Nairobi in the ’90s. That particular trip led me to Tanzania, where I lived for three years running a PADI dive resort on the Indian Ocean. I keep returning to Africa and have visited over 30 countries on the continent.

You’ve said you feel most comfortable as a nomad. Was it a natural move to become an entrepreneur and create a travel business? 

Even as a 10-year-old child, at boarding school in Hertfordshire, I found myself trading Kool-Aid for Blondie tape cassettes and I believe that I have always had that entrepreneurial spirit in me. With travel and business embedded in me from such a young age, it was only a matter of time before I started a travel company. After returning from Africa, in 2000, I set about gaining the necessary experience to start a travel company.

When did you start your business?

We have been creating high-end luxury safaris for the last 15 years. Our history in Africa stretches back another 20 years when I first undertook a safari to a very remote National Park in northern Nigeria. That experience, alongside several years living and working in East and Southern Africa, ultimately led to the creation of my company Opulent Africa some years later.

The company is founded on a true passion for the magnificent, and diverse, wildlife that lives in the protected rain forests, rivers, lakes and open plains of Africa. Backed by a very clear understanding of what it means to deliver first-class service, our safaris are second to none.

When we put together a trip, we do so with the excitement of our personal experiences and drawing on our memories, to help create the ultimate wildlife encounter of a lifetime. Every one of our team of professionals, and highly experienced guides, is dedicated to making your dreams come true.

What are your favorite places to visit in Africa?  

I am an adventurer at heart and love exploring new places. I love the more-remote, wilderness areas away from the crowds. Places like the Selous in southern Tanzania, or Botswana’s Okavango Delta, are some of my true favorites with camps so far off the beaten track, you have to fly in by light aircraft to reach them.

Describe the travel trends now, in our pandemic world. Are you finding people are longing for escape and booking bucket list trips for the future? 

I feel that a lot of people are yearning for travel, as we have been effectively starved of our natural “migration” patterns. Currently, we are seeing a trend for the big, bucket list trips that may have been on a back burner for the future and these include big-game safaris. Increasingly, the more remote destinations, like Botswana and Zambia, are at the forefront of these types of vacation with exclusive use properties standing out. We are also working on more small group trips, for groups of friends and families, traveling together.

Describe what makes Opulent Africa different from the other high-end, travel experiences. 

Every safari that we design is personalized to each client. So we start with a blank canvas and build each itinerary according to our clients’ dreams. We only operate a relatively small number of very high-quality trips each month and this allows us to deliver extremely high customer service levels. Our repeat, and referral, business is phenomenal as a result. Every safari that we create is unique and highly personalized. A 10-day, fully inclusive, private luxury safari with Opulent Africa starts at around $7,500, per person, dependent on seasonal rates, location, style of accommodation and types of activities. Whatever your specific interests, bucket list ideas, or preferred travel dates, we will design an unforgettable trip of a lifetime for you.

For those of us in America who are clueless about planning a trip to Africa, please give us a few tips on what to expect? 

The way we plan a trip starts with a conversation with each client. That discussion forms the bones of the itinerary and with our expertise, we will design an itinerary drawing on our personal experience, and intimate knowledge, of locations where we operate. There is no typical itinerary and our safaris range from a short $5,000, 4 day, fly-in safari to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda to a $50,000, 60 day, multi-country trip. ♦

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