When Tracey and Tony Laker told their son Flynn (18), who has Down’s syndrome, on Thursday night they would be at home on Monday when he came in from school, his eyes filled with tears of happiness.
They knew, just from that reaction, their decision to leave the Laker House of Travel business to spend more time with their family was the right one.
Friday was their last day as partners in the business.
The travel agency will not be closing, with business partners House of Travel Holdings taking over the Lakers’ share of the enterprise.
Their decision has come after a very tough 18 months after Mr Laker was diagnosed with cancer.
“What cemented the decision was us reflecting on Tony’s diagnosis,” Mrs Laker said.
“It hasn’t beaten us, but we haven’t beaten it yet, and that’s our major goal and focus now. I guess the public think ‘has Tony’s cancer got worse? Has it spread?’ – the answer is a definitive ‘no’ to that.’’
The aim is for the couple to start living their best life and, to do that, they have decided to step away from what they are doing to spend some time as a family.
When they started the agency 22 years ago, it was a risk.
“There were 12 other travel agents in Invercargill at the time,” Mrs Laker said.
“The bank wouldn’t even lend us the money to start. It was seen as too risky and not the best financial decision to make but finance has never been our driving force.”
As much as the decision is a right one, it is an emotional one.
There were tears from Mr Laker as he spoke of the moments that had really stood out during the past 22 years including making a difference in the community, donating and sponsoring organisations and charities, hundreds of them, in that time.
Another highlight was 60 tours they had escorted throughout the world they would continue to do even after stepping away from the business.
Chartering a plane for a day trip to the Melbourne Cup, which meant the first international flight landed in Invercargill, was also a standout.
“We’ve always been leaders in doing stuff that other people wouldn’t do,” Mr Laker said.
“We’ve loved just creating memories, lifetime memories for people.”
It is obvious how well liked they are. They had received flowers, cards and even a morning tea shout from customers. They were blown away by the response when people heard the news.
When talking of low points throughout the years, there was only one standout. When they had to make staff redundant when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and upturned the travel industry.
The pandemic was not a factor in them leaving the business. In fact, it was one of the reasons they stayed on for the past year-and-a-half.
“It was absolutely vital to us we got this business and our team through Covid and to a point where it’s going to be hugely successful again moving forward,” Mr Laker said.
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel now.”
The first job on Mr Laker’s to-do list is painting the house but there is more they want to do.
The couple are adamant they are not retiring and hoped they can use their business prowess and success to help others or even start another business of their own.
“Who knows, it’s really our time to selfishly think of our family and ourselves and just spend some time doing the things that bring us great joy outside of continually thinking about the company,” Mr Laker said.
It was important for Flynn and daughter Meg, who is in her second year studying at the University of Otago, to know the focus was now on family after going through such an arduous time.
And despite the couple walking away from the business last week, they were determined there was more to do.
“One book is finished and the sequel is about to begin,” Mr Laker said.