Bruce Hodge is surely one of the most interesting men in the world, so it was only fitting that lightning flashed and thunder clapped during his remarks as the inimitable founder of Goway Travel celebrated his 80th birthday at his North Toronto home late last week.
Dramatic effects aside, most in attendance – several dozen family, friends, neighbours, and select industry colleagues (in some cases one and the same) – knew much of the Hodge/Goway origin story, in which a determined young Aussie (a former research economist with a bank in Australia and a tour guide/travel sales manager in Europe) emigrated to Canada in 1970 where he founded Goway Travel.
The company quickly found its niche as a leading South Pacific tour specialist, eventually evolving into an international powerhouse that in 2023 sends travellers to destinations around the world and boasts offices in four countries (Canada, US, Australia, Philippines).
Though guests might not have known that the humble Hodge and wife Claire (also integral in the growth of the company) were “too poor to have children” in their early days – a problem clearly remedied, as daughter Bronwyn and son Adam looked on – most had heard some or all of Hodge’s travel exploits, such as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, visiting the gorillas in Rwanda, fleeing tiger sharks while diving the Great Barrier Reef, trekking in Peru and Nepal, riding the Trans-Siberian railway, a 32-day crossing of Africa from “Cairo to Cape Town,” and too many more to mention.
The humble Hodge – and other speakers – recounted a life and business fueled by good humour, remarkable tales, and a healthy helping of vino and suds – one of Hodge’s passions being a hearty pub wherever he roams.
But make no mistake, declared Ian, his friend of 44 years and BGM – “bloody good mate” – Hodge is a man of remarkable qualities: “Determined, focussed, purposeful, enduring, constant, consistent… And those qualities are laced with integrity and honesty.”
Then he laughed and bestowed upon his friend an “Australian OBE” award – “over bloody eighty!”
And 80 years has proved to be plenty of time for Hodge to fulfil what he said were his two great quests in life: “to explore our wonderful world, and to create and build a business from scratch.”
The latter, he says, started with a mere “350 bucks” in his pocket, rendering his second quest “an impossible dream.”
Looking back, he laughed, “it was stupid” and required “breaking all the rules of business” to succeed. Indeed, he revealed, “Things were not good… and for the first eight years of running a business with no money, I wandered in the wilderness.
“And if you know anything about the Bible,” he joked, “Moses only wandered in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.”
Even as the business grew, he admitted, “I had to face many, many, many, unbeatable foes. There were seven recessions, which includes Sept. 11, the travel-industry killing pandemic (and) we even had a computer hack…” – all obstacles that wouldn’t have been overcome without the “unwavering support of my wife Claire, the dedicated staff of Goway who bought into my quest, and some wonderful friends. So, those of you who helped me along the way, I want to formally thank you.”
As for his “other” quest – experiencing the wonderful world (with his family and friends), Hodge said, “I’ve been lucky to get really out there and see a lot of places.”
And it’s a quest that continues. Only last year, Hodge said he visited “the unbelievably treacherous, rotten place called the Skeleton Coast (in Namibia),” adding with grin, “It was awesome!”
But his biggest blessing, he reckoned, was the great luck to fall in love three times in his life: “First with my wife Claire, then with my daughter, and then with my granddaughter.” And there’s another grandchild on the way, he revealed.
Ultimately, he mused, “I am a very fortunate person… Life, you can gather in my case, has not been boring.
“And it’s going to continue that way,” he assured, explaining that he and Adam have been invited to take part next year in an 1,800-km. safari across Western Australia – a quest he says there was no chance of turning down.
“The point,” he said, “is I’m going! Just because you turn 80 doesn’t mean you can’t do those kinds of things.
“I tell you, I try to live my life by the philosophy of Clint Eastwood. And his philosophy is: ‘Don’t let the old man in!’”
First published at Travel Industry Today