The saying, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is a lofty goal in today’s world, but one that John Spence was determined to pursue nonetheless. Spence cultivated a successful safari business over the course of 17 years that recently culminated in an acquisition by venerable U.K. tour operator, Scott Dunn. As the newly minted president of Scott Dunn U.S.A., Spence’s South Cedros offices in Solana Beach are now the U.S. headquarters for one of the most highly regarded travel outfitters in the world.
What Spence finds appealing about the San Diego traveler’s “mindset” — and why he thinks Scott Dunn is the right choice for so many travelers here — is that in San Diego, we have a strong desire to travel, with a large segment waiting until their 40s or 50s to take those trips, many of which include their children, parents, or grandparents (in fact, 40 percent of his clientele are families). He fully understands the importance of entrusting those experiences and memories with someone who knows what they’re talking about. His extensive personal travels enable him to make confident, informed recommendations based on the very specific desires, preferences, and nuances of his clients.
Prior to the merger with Scott Dunn, Spence owned and operated Aardvark Safaris, Inc., which he originally founded in England. The odd name comes with a very straightforward explanation: “I was going to call the company Safari Solutions,” says Spence. “But a friend of mine who’s in marketing said it was a terrible idea. He said ‘why don’t you call it Aardvark — that’s an African animal, isn’t it? It starts with Aa so it’ll sit nicely above Abercrombie & Kent and everybody else in the directory,’” he laughs. The name stuck.
With frequent visits to the U.S. to drum up business stateside during Aardvark’s first decade, Spence began entertaining thoughts of relocating here. An investor he’d originally met on safari in Africa who’d helped him launch Aardvark lived in Del Mar, so despite the beautiful climate in Southern California, his ultimate decision to move here was purely business. When the recession hit in the U.K., it was enough to push him to seize the opportunity to try something new, and he moved his family to Del Mar in 2009. His affable nature and thorough firsthand knowledge of Africa helped him to grow a healthy business stateside. When Scott Dunn proposed they join forces, it was a natural fit.
Spence’s success began with a determination and interest in pursuing travel over college, which he did with abandon, from alpine ski lodges to metropolitan cities to African river rapids. Likely, that history plays a tremendous part in his passion when talking about kids taking a “Gap Year” before embarking on a college career to garner valuable life experience beyond the classroom. His logic is tough to argue: “Travel’s a funny thing, because I think it’s the only thing that costs money but it actually makes you richer.” 858.523.9000, scottdunn.com DEANNA MUPRHY