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Community Highlights: Meet Paul Gagner of Dreamland Safari Tours

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paul Gagner.

Hi Paul, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Dreamland Safari Tours was founded in 2001. We offer hiking, backpacking, photography, and sightseeing tours in the surrounding area, including the Wave, White Pocket, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and areas around Kanab, Utah.

In March 2020 my wife Sunny Stroeer and I purchased the company, just as COVID was taking off. 10 days after signing the purchase agreement, we made what we felt was the most responsible decision in light of the fledgling pandemic, and we shuttered the business. In the first few weeks, we had a cash flow chart showing when we would be out of cash – we thought we would have to declare bankruptcy before we even got started. After a successful crowdfunding campaign that we used to pay some of our guides who were unable to be approved for unemployment, PPE money, and some local grants, we re-opened the business two months after closing.

Visitors began to revisit southwest Utah as the draw to wide-open spaces seemed safe to them. We made a number of changes to the business to address the new reality, and starting in July 2020 visitation came back with a vengeance. Fast forward to 2022 and the company has more than doubled in size in the two years since we bought it, and we have opened a new office in town.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
As noted in our story there have been countless struggles due to the pandemic. In addition, an issue many small towns have is a lack of affordable housing, and therefore the employee pool is small. We have worked hard to create a great work culture and to take good care of our employees, so this past year we had more applicants for guides than we had openings, which was a change from the past few years.

Gas prices are the newest issue, and to address this we have installed our own fuel tanks and begun buying gas at wholesale price.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Dreamland Safari Tours?
dreamland Safari Tours is the #1 rated area tour company on TripAdvisor. We have worked hard to get to this spot. Between Sunny’s and Paul’s experience, we have strived to offer best-in-class customer service by recognizing that we are in the hospitality business. We help visitors understand the area and “lay of the land” and provide ideas and suggestions for other areas to visit without a guide. We make hotel and restaurant recommendations. In essence, while it takes a lot of staff time we become our guest’s vacation planners.

In addition, our guides are where the rubber meets the road. We invest significantly in hiring, and then training our guides. We also invest in continuing education. Each of our guides is what we describe as an interpretive naturalist guide. Our guests hire us to understand and make sense of the natural world they are seeing. In fact, while reviews for other guide services tend to be focused on the amazing areas the guest visit. Our reviews tend to be about that, but mostly about the knowledge, kindness, and caring nature of their guide.

Where we are in life is often partly because of others. Who/what else deserves credit for how your story turned out?
Our guides and staff are the number one reason why we are successful. Sunny and I have both worked with several strong mentors over the years, and the adage that culture starts at the top is true. We strive every day to lead by example.

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