BY SHANNON KELLY The (Lynchburg) News & Advance
BEDFORD — Visitors and residents of the city of Bedford can now explore the Big Step area in an interactive scavenger hunt-style experience through an app called Traipse.
Part of the city’s tourism initiatives, Traipse creates scavenger hunts with puzzles to promote local tourism and small businesses in various communities.
The interactive themed tours aim to grow tourism and support the local economy through engaging, educational tours while offering physical activity and mental exercise. Users in Bedford can download the smartphone app from www.traipse.co, promoted by the famous American cryptid Bigfoot.
“Bigfoot is like our spokesperson,” said Mary Circle, coordinator of the Bedford Township Economic Development Authority. “Our spokesquatch.”
People also read…
Case studies were developed with Traipse. Historical tours or small business tours are two popular examples. Bedford chose a route focused on local small businesses in the downtown area, but Zirkle hopes to expand Traipse’s offerings in the future to include the city’s many historic sites.
There are currently 32 stops on the route which starts at Bridge Street Café. Originally, Zirkle had about 50 stops planned, combining local businesses and historic sites. However, she said she had to cut it in half because of the funding available.
Traipse’s venture was funded by a $24,000 grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The money was part of a state initiative aimed at helping businesses and tourism recover from the impact of COVID-19, Circle said.
Bedford has done pretty well during the pandemic in terms of small businesses, actually adding several new businesses to the area and expanding some existing small businesses, she said. Promoting tourism helps local businesses.
Zirkle has been interested in using an app to promote local tourism and business for some time. She was persistent in her search for a viable option.
“I got a quote for what it would cost to build an app for the city and I was like, ‘There’s no way we can afford — whatever — $80,000 was to customize an app,'” Circle said.
However, she did not give up. A contact with the Virginia Tourism Corporation told her about Traipse.
“It just started with a real big app idea that we couldn’t afford,” Zirkle said.
With codes to crack and puzzles to solve, incentives such as discounts or free samples can be offered at different stops for users who solve them. Local businesses in downtown Bedford support the Traipse initiative, Zirkle said.
After discussions with Zirkle and her colleagues at the Bedford County Tourism Department to formulate a vision, a team of two from Traipse came to town to explore the downtown area. They chose small businesses to include based on a list of recommendations provided by city staff, created puzzles and brain teasers to solve related to each destination, then mapped out the route and made it available on the app.
All in all, “developing the tour took a day and a half of field work and another week of database work to get everything loaded into the app,” according to Austin Auclair, director of creative content at Traipse.
“We don’t always send a few people to give a tour, but two of us really wanted to check out Bedford,” Auclair said in an email. “Also, for tours that emphasize small businesses, it helps Traipse to have two people on stage: one person to talk to the staff and learn about the history and priorities of the business, and another to concentrate on building the hunting puzzles of cleaners. We try to build our scavenger hunt puzzles to bring customers physically into the business and get customers to slow down and actually pay attention to what is being offered by these businesses.”
Bedford’s Traipse trial starts on August 3rd.
Joining other Virginia localities on the platform, Zirkle said it puts the city of Bedford more prominently in the state’s “Virginia is for Lovers” tourism campaign.
Traipse is used throughout Virginia, including tours in Staunton, Harrisonburg, Winchester, Fredericksburg and Abingdon, Augusta and Shenandoah counties.