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Rob Costa of Art’s Dune Tours

“The lighting every single day is different,” says Rob Costa of Art’s Dune Tours.

Raymond Forbes

“The lighting every single day is different,” says Rob Costa of Art’s Dune Tours.

When he came back from Italy after World War II, the late Art Costa began taking customers in his old Ford “Woody” station wagon out to see the sand dunes of Provincetown. His son Rob traveled the world as a tour guide, eventually coming back to land’s end to take over the family business from the “King of the Dunes.”

Q. Was the company grandfathered in to drive on the dunes?

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A. There have probably been 14 to 15 companies out on the dunes through the years. We just happen to be the last remaining one. The last one went out about five years ago.

Q. Why have they all died out?

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A. I think a lot of them came in for the quick-cash type of thing. My father started the company in 1946, long before the Park Service. In 1961, when they took over, my father was well into it. And it became his passion. He did not care so much about how much he made as how much he enjoyed his life doing it.

Q. When did you start with the business?

A. About 17 years ago, when he developed Alzheimer’s. I just turned 51. I worked for my dad since I was old enough to drive, even before that. I went to college and then got a job as a tour director. I traveled all over the world for quite a few years. But I always knew I’d come back and take over the reins. I loved doing it. I’ve always been a tour guide, ever since I was a little kid.

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Q. As gorgeous as the dunes are, you see them every day. How do you keep them new for you?

A. That’s pretty easy. The lighting every single day is different. And more so, it’s people’s appreciation of it: the questions, how they react, and their connection to that area. Everyone comes out of it with something different, something unique. And I absorb their appreciation, which makes it all possible.

Q. They give tours of John Lennon’s childhood home in Liverpool, and one day Bob Dylan showed up to take the tour, like a regular guy. You must get stuff like that.

A. Yeah. In fact, we just had Rosie O’Donnell and her wife. I’ve also taken Ryan Murphy out, from “American Horror Story” and “Glee.” My father had a bunch of stars, too: Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. He took all the Kennedys out years ago. We’ve had John Kerry, too.

Q. Provincetown has changed a lot since you were a kid. It’s not a little fishing village anymore. It’s a pretty busy commercial strip.

A. The focus shifted from fishing to tourism. However, we do have a fishing fleet, and the ones doing it are hard-working, including my family. My brother and my nephew have a lobster business, and they also tuna-fish. That comes from my uncles, my grandfather, all Portuguese fishermen. We’ve still got connections down through all the generations.

Q. You do clambakes on the beach, right?

A. The last time we had competition, it made me think outside the box: How can I do tours that are different, to separate us from the competition? I thought, why don’t we serve a nice clambake or barbecue meal on beach? For the sunset tour, we can take 45 people, and we might do 20 dinners. They have an hour on the beach to do whatever you want. They can take a walk, bring their own food or a cooler of their beverages. Or we can serve you. A lot times, my nephew catches the lobsters. It’s pretty cool.

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.
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