BY SHANNON KELLY The (Lynchburg) News & Advance
BEDFORD – Visitors and residents of the city of Bedford can now explore the area with Bigfoot in an interactive, scavenger hunt-style experience via an app called Traipse.
As part of the city’s tourism initiatives, Traipse hosts brain teaser scavenger hunts to promote local tourism and small businesses in various communities.
Interactive themed excursions aim to promote tourism and support the local economy through engaging, educational tours, while providing physical activity and intellectual exercise. Users in Bedford can download the app on a smartphone from www.traipse.co, promoted by the famous US cryptid Bigfoot.
“Bigfoot is sort of our spokesperson,” said Mary Zirkle, coordinator for the City of Bedford’s Economic Development Agency. “Our ‘spoke quatch’.”
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Thematic explorations are developed using Traipse. History-related excursions or small business tours are two popular examples. Bedford chose a route that focuses on local small businesses in the Centertown area, but Zirkle hopes to expand the Traipse offering to the city’s many historic sites in the future.
There are currently 32 stops on the route, which begins at Bridge Street Cafe. Originally, Zirkle planned about 50 stops combining local businesses and historical sites. However, she said she had to cut it in half due to the funds available.
The Traipse project was funded with a $24,000 grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The money is part of a government initiative to help businesses and tourism recover from the effects of COVID-19, Zirkle said.
Bedford weathered the pandemic fairly well when it came to small businesses, actually adding several new businesses to the area and expanding some existing small businesses, she said. The promotion of tourism helps to strengthen local businesses.
Zirkle has long been interested in promoting tourism and the local economy with an app. She persistently searched 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 to customize an app for $80,000,'” Zirkle said.
Still, she didn’t give up. A contact with the Virginia tourism company told her about Traipse.
“It started with a really big app idea that we couldn’t afford,” Zirkle said.
With codes to crack and riddles to solve, incentives such as discounts or free samples can be offered at various stops to users who solve them. Local businesses in downtown Bedford have supported the Traipse initiative, Zirkle said.
After discussions with Zirkle and her colleagues from the Bedford County Department of Tourism to formulate a vision, a team of two from Traipse came to town to explore downtown. They selected small businesses to be included based on a list of recommendations from city officials, created riddles and brain teasers to solve related to each destination, then mapped the route and made it available on the app.
Overall, “the development of the tour took a day and a half of fieldwork and another week of database work to load everything into the app,” said Austin Auclair, director of creative content at Traipse.
“We don’t always send multiple people to organize a tour, but two of us were keen to visit Bedford,” Auclair said in an email. “Also, on tours that focus on small businesses, it helps Traipse to have two people on site: one person who talks to employees and learns about the company’s history and priorities, and another who focuses on to solve the riddles for the scavenger hunt. We try to design our scavenger hunt puzzles to physically bring customers into businesses and get customers to slow down and actually pay attention to what those businesses are offering.”
Bedford’s Traipse experience kicked off on August 3rd.
Zirkle, who joined other Virginia locations on the platform, said it makes the town of Bedford more prominent in the state’s Virginia is for Lovers tourism campaign.
Traipse operates throughout Virginia, including tours in Staunton, Harrisonburg, Winchester, Fredericksburg, and Abingdon, Augusta, and Shenandoah counties.