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Drive-thru exhibits could be more than a pandemic trend

Cole del Charco Jun 9, 2021
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Signs guide drivers through the pandemic-friendly dinosaur exhibit that culminates with a replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Cole del Charco
Back to Business

Drive-thru exhibits could be more than a pandemic trend

Cole del Charco Jun 9, 2021
Heard on:
Signs guide drivers through the pandemic-friendly dinosaur exhibit that culminates with a replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Cole del Charco
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The company Imagine Exhibitions had life-sized robot dinosaurs in zoos and museums across the country when everything shut down last year because of COVID-19, so no one could go see them or hear them roar.

Then came an idea — what about a drive-thru Dino Safari? Within months, a production team put together a slick audio tour, an app and a website to guide people from the comfort and safety of their cars.

Actors’ voices on the tour guide families and drivers through the car path that goes past the dinosaur replicas, with descriptions of the species on signs beside them.

Imagine Exhibitions started the drive-thru late last year and is now running the tour in Cleveland; tours in Detroit and Long Island, New York, open Friday.

“So we had the dinosaurs, we had to redo all of our signage,” said Tom Zaller, the company’s president and CEO. “By the way, I never thought that I would own traffic cones. I now own 10,000 of them.”

He said Imagine has employed stage hands, and other entertainment professionals who had been out of work for months. Ticket costs vary by vehicle size — a large SUV costs about $60. And Zaller said the business has been profitable.

The Velociraptor is just one of the many dinosaur replicas visitors drive within feet of on the tour.
The Velociraptor is just one of the many dinosaur replicas visitors drive within feet of on the tour. (Photo by Cole del Charco)

Still, he’s not sure if Imagine will keep it going once all pandemic restrictions are lifted.

“It’s definitely pandemic driven, right? That’s why we’re here and why we did it — we’re crazy enough to try it,” Zaller said. “Maybe from this there’ll be a new form of entertainment that’s a little new and different, and you don’t have to get out of your car. Who knows.”

Drive-thru exhibits are a tough business bet to make. But they do offer convenience, said Erik Gordon, with the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. 

“Think of all of the advantages,” Gordon said. “You don’t have to push an overloaded stroller, you don’t have to drag a little guy with short legs to keep up with a big sister with long legs who you have to keep telling to slow down.”

He says drive-thru options may be a good bet for a lot of businesses moving forward.

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