From ‘square peg’ to successful tour operator …
Anthony is still hard at work
“God’s Own Country” is the name Anthony Thomas, a resident of Benoni, calls the place which still holds a special place in his heart. “I grew up in Zimbabwe and cannot get it out of my system,” he explains.
So much so that Anthony’s home-grown, home-managed travel business, GOC Leisure, has a logo depicting a leaping tiger fish superimposed over a map of the country.
Although he is now 75, Anthony does not look a day over sixty. “I believe that hard work keeps you young. I could sit on my Lay-Z-Boy recliner clutching my TV remote all day, but that’s not what I want. I love being busy.”
How to create an encore career
Trained as a metallurgist, Anthony spent many years working in the platinum mines around Rustenburg and, later, for Anglo American. “In the late ‘90s, I left Anglo,” he recalls. “In that environment, I was a square peg in a round hole. I decided to reinvent myself.”
Reinvention translates into assisting a friend run golfing tours to Zimbabwe. “That’s where I learned the ropes. Eventually, Zimbabwe became impossible to visit and I had to look elsewhere.”
The business, which takes guests on holidays ranging from four to ten days to a variety of locations all over southern Africa, is flourishing.
Anthony himself travels about 160 days each year. He puts six or seven guests in his mini-van, packs their luggage into a trailer and sets off. It’s mighty hard work. Anthony drives the guests without help, arranges for the checking in at destinations, sets up excursions and is the de facto expert local guide. Between each trip he is busy marketing, planning and ensuring that all the administration and legal requirements of the business are ship-shape.
Anthony’s is a classic niche business. “I cater almost exclusively for people over sixty. I understand their needs – destinations and budgets – and there are many retirement villages here in Benoni housing customers. In fact, most of my clients are widows. The needs of people over 55 are entirely different from those of, say, 30- to 45-year-olds. I take people off the beaten tourist track and, over the years, have built up excellent relationships with guest houses in key places. We go back regularly. It’s an effective model.”
Attention to detail is paramount. “I collect and drop everyone off at their homes. And every year-end, I have a big party for all my guests of that year. They love it. And, of course, that’s where I hand out my itineraries for the coming year,” he says, smiling.
Where to next?
Included in Anthony’s list of destinations are the Wild Coast, the spring flowers on the Cape West Coast, the Nest Hotel in the Drakensburg and Salt Rock on the KZN coast. For game viewing, guests can select Pilanesberg or Kruger or Madikwe. He now offers tours outside South Africa to Botswana/Okavango, the Caprivi and northern and central Namibia.
Anthony includes his family members when necessary. “My wife, Enolla, comes along on some of the trips, as does son, Glen. In fact, I plan to let Glen take over the business one day. I honestly believe that you should follow your dream. When I started out, I was tentative, but then I just said, ‘I can do this.’ And I did. And I am still doing it, twenty-one years later.”
Visit www.GOCLeisure.com to find out more about Anthony and Enolla’s tours.