TORONTO — The average traveller may know very little, relatively speaking, about dinosaurs. But they’re almost certainly awed by the fearsome, awesome beasts that lived on this earth millions and millions of years ago.
And that’s exactly what Zach Vanasse, founder and director of new travel company Dinosaur Trips, is counting on.
If you recognize Vanasse’s name, that’s because he’s been in the travel industry for more than a decade, starting in the trade media and then moving over to the communications side, landing at Bannikin Travel & Tourism in 2014, a leading travel trade development, branding and storytelling, media relations and destination development consultancy. At the same time he also worked as program manager for The Travel Corporation’s TreadRight Foundation. He’s also active in PropelTO, a networking community for Toronto travel professionals.
In November 2022, he launched Dinosaur Trips. Why? “People are fascinated by dinosaurs in my experience, and there are incredible museums, parks, and dig sites all over the world. Yet no one was putting these experiences together with an awesome destination experience,” Vanasse tells Travelweek.
As Vanasse puts it, Dinosaur Trips “are exactly what they sound like. We create trips, across the world, centred around dinosaur digs, discoveries, experiences, experts and incredible access into the world of our prehistoric planet through paleontology.”
Asked how travel advisors can best qualify their clients for one of his trips, he says: “Do you have a client who is interested in doing something no one else has done? We’re for them. And we’re for curious travellers. Travellers who want to find true discovery in their experience. It’s funny, we use the word ‘discovery’ a lot in the travel industry, but how often do guests actually get to make a genuine discovery?”
The inaugural Dinosaur Trips destination, the Badlands of Alberta, will be featured in a tour this July. It’s a treasure trove for dinosaur fossils.
Read on for more details about Dinosaur Trips, its itineraries, what to expect on its tours, how Dinosaur Trips will work with travel advisors (spoiler alert: 10% commission) and more.
Travelweek: What made you decide to start your own travel company, and Dinosaur Trips specifically?
Vanasse: “It came from a desire to take the kind of trip Dinosaur Trips is now putting together, which is to say dinosaur- and paleontology-focused experiences, and not being able to find a travel company that was doing anything like that.
“While there are plenty of travel companies that explore the world through other ‘scientific’ lenses – like archaeology and wildlife – nobody was doing that for dinosaurs. I thought that was interesting, because people are fascinated by dinosaurs in my experience, and there are incredible museums, parks, and dig sites all over the world. Yet no one was putting these experiences together with an awesome destination experience.
“Millions of people visit sites like Machu Picchu and the Egyptian pyramids, or go on an African safari, while not necessarily being super into archaeology, history, or ecology per se. But they all recognize how astounding, interesting, and photogenic these incredible sites and experiences are all the same. It seemed to me like dinosaurs and paleontology should have that same draw and appeal.
“In that mold, I wanted to create trips that would appeal to someone like me, a person who is interested in dinosaurs and paleontology on a sort-of hobbyist level, and my wife, who was significantly less interested in dinosaurs and more into the eating, drinking, incredible experiences part of a vacation itinerary.”
Travelweek: I’m sure that families will be a big part of your target market – but what other demographics would be a good fit, that maybe travel agents wouldn’t think of at first?
Vanasse: “Do you have a client who is interested in doing something no one else has done? We’re for them.
“And we’re for curious travellers. Travellers who want to find true discovery in their experience. It’s funny, we use the word ‘discovery’ a lot in the travel industry, but how often do guests actually get to make a genuine discovery?
“When you join us for a Dinosaur Trips experience, there’s a real chance you will discover something no human has ever seen. Something that has been buried for millions and millions of years. That can happen when you’re digging in places like the Pipestone Creek Bone Bed in Alberta with legendary paleontologist Dr. Philip Currie. And thanks to a program with the Dinosaur Research Institute, that’s exactly the kind of discovery our guests can make this summer.
“If agents have clients that are craving an original adventure experience, we’re here for them. We’ll also be rafting, horseback riding, caving, hiking, and comfort camping at times throughout our experiences in Alberta this summer. And if you’ve got clients who enjoy special access at museums or exclusive experiences with experts, that’s what we do.”
Travelweek: Can you tell us a bit about what a typical Dinosaur Trips tour would look like?
Vanasse: “We do small-group departures and private tailor-made itineraries. We’ll welcome 6-16 guests for our family-focused trips to allow for larger families or for multi-generational experiences, and for our more adult-focused trips, we’ll typically be welcoming between 6-12 guests. Our Badlands & Beyond trip has a maximum of 8 guests.
“Our family trips are typically by 5 – 7 days, with optional add-ons (like a luxurious post-trip experience in Banff and Canmore). Our adult-focused itineraries will run anywhere from 7 – 21 days, depending on what the destination has in store for us. Our first trips this summer are 12 days / 11 nights.
“And we will be offering some shorter city-stay experiences where guests will explore the city with paleontologists taking them to their favourite haunts throughout the city, and providing them with special access to their museums and research facilities. These trips will often be paired with non-paleo experiences like concerts and festivals, sports games, or other big events.
“And they are all-inclusive, except for flights to and from the start/end point of the trip. All meals, accommodations, entry fees, and transfers are included, unless otherwise noted.
“A typical day will see us experience a mix of gastronomical delights, special access to a museum, research facility, park or dig site, quality time spent with leading paleontologists as we explore on hikes, treks, and tours. Plus some adventure elements thrown in for good measure, like the aforementioned horseback ride or caving experience for example. And for those days and itineraries that include fossil digs, they will play out exactly like a real dinosaur dig does, because they are real dinosaur digs! That means getting your hands good and dirty hunting for fossils under the direction and supervision of experts.”
Travelweek: It’s great that the Badlands in Alberta will be the site of your first tour, in summer 2023. Will you be focusing on North America with your trips, and can you offer some hints about other future destinations?
Vanasse: “Yes, very happy to hint at future destinations. I like to say that dinosaurs ruled the world for millions of years, so there’s no shortage of destinations we can explore using dinosaurs and paleontology as our north star. And if a client wants a tailor-made experience in a part of the world they’re curious about and has a paleontological offering, we’d be thrilled to work our dinosaur connections to put that together for them. Not sure if a destination has enough of a dinosaur offering? Just ask us!
“To more pointedly answer your question though, we’re currently developing programs and itineraries in Patagonia, southern Africa, Germany, and the UK. The western U.S. also has some incredible fossil beds and brilliant museums, so I expect we’ll be exploring there as well before too long.”
Travelweek: Will you be working with travel agents, and offering commission?
Vanasse: “I’d love to work with travel agents. Admittedly, this is a niche that hasn’t been explored much yet and in my days spent as a travel industry journalist, I got to see first-hand how agents understand their clients and can educate them on experiences they might have never contemplated for themselves, so who better to introduce this kind of travel product than agents! We are offering a 10% commission to agents for our first year of operations.”
Travelweek: What’s the best way for travel agents to reach out to work with you?
Vanasse: “They can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can call us toll free at 1-888-641-5059.”
More details about Dinosaur Trips can be found at https://dinosaurtrips.com/.