TONY Laker is a positive, passionate man.
The hugely successful, multi-award winning travel agent, and his wife Tracey, started their business House of Travel Lakers 22 years ago “from scratch”, building it in to one of the largest travel agencies in New Zealand.
Before Covid-19 swept the world, House of Travel Lakers won the award for the best retail travel agency in the New Zealand at the 2019 National Travel Industry Awards.
That year, Tony was also awarded a lifetime achievement award, one of only six, which recognised an individual for their outstanding leadership and contribution to the New Zealand travel industry.
From the beginning of his business, he also supported his other passion – football, sponsoring Old Boys’ Assn Football Club.
It is hardly surprising.
From lunchtime kick-arounds at school, Tony got the football bug, eventually playing for Old Boys’ as a 16-year-old in the youth team.
Twenty-four years later, in senior reserve, it was time for the 40-year-old to retire from the beautiful game.
Or try to.
The masters team grade beckoned, and won.
Playing in the masters was described “like trying to turn the Titanic”, at times, Tony laughed.
Sponsoring Old Boys’
Sponsoring Old Boys’ was a no brainer for Tony, which he had done throughout the decades.
At a special acknowledgement of the team’s naming strip last week, Tony reminded the senior team, “saying you played in the senior team is a special thing”.
Old Boys’ AFC coach Scott MacKenzie thanked Tony for his huge contribution and support of the club.
The turmoil of Covid-19 border closures fallout and resulting decline in international travel had dramatically affected Tony’s business, also meaning he was no longer able to sponsor his beloved football club – for the time being.
“We have been making big losses financially… We went overnight from a multi-million dollar business to zero, and had to close the office in Gore,” Tony said.
“Our 25 staff became eight.”
Despite the change in available travel options, House of Travel Lakers had reinvented itself, changing from international to domestic holidays and tours, while also putting together tour packages within New Zealand and Australia in anticipation of the transtasman borders reopening.
Ever positive, Tony’s fighting spirit was evident.
“It will probably take five years to get back to where we were before.
“I will be back sponsoring Old Boys’.”
However, the naming strip for the team had remained the same, and would continue to do so, in gratitude for the decades of support House of Travel Lakers had given the club, Scott said.
Scott also acknowledged it had been a difficult year for Tony and his family, not just professionally, but personally as well.
Two months after the Covid-19 lockdown, Tony said he had been feeling unwell – nausea, which he had never had before, so went to his doctor.
The results of the blood test showed cancer, a rare form of liver cancer.
Although the diagnose had added to the already hugely stressful time, Tony remained positive.
“I will beat it.
“I hated getting second when I played soccer.”
After four operations and chemotherapy, Tony said his latest results had shown the cancer had decreased 10%, surprising the doctors and professionals.
“I’m there to win in this business and to beat this cancer.”