BEDFORD — Visitors to and residents of the Town of Bedford can now explore the locality with Bigfoot in an interactive, scavenger hunt-style experience through an app called Traipse.
Part of the town’s tourism initiatives, Traipse creates scavenger hunts with brain teasers to promote local tourism and small businesses in various communities.
Interactive, themed excursions are aimed at growing tourism and supporting the local economy through engaging, educational tours while also offering physical activity and mental exercise. Users in Bedford can download the app on a smartphone from www.traipse.co, advertised by the famed U.S. cryptid Bigfoot.
“Bigfoot is like our spokesperson,” said Mary Zirkle, Town of Bedford Economic Development Authority coordinator. “Our ‘spokesquatch.’”
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Themed explorations are developed with Traipse. History-based excursions or small business tours are two popular examples. Bedford opted for a route focused on local small businesses in its Centertown area, but Zirkle hopes to expand the Traipse offerings in the future to include the town’s many historic sites.
There currently are 32 stops on the route, which starts at Bridge Street Café. Initially, Zirkle had about 50 stops planned, combining local businesses and historic sites. However, she said she had to trim it down by half due to available funding.
The Traipse endeavor was funded by a $24,000 grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation. The money was part of a state initiative aimed to help businesses and tourism recover from impacts of COVID-19, Zirkle said.
Bedford fared quite well through the pandemic in terms of small businesses, actually adding several new businesses to the area and having some existing small businesses expand, she said. Boosting tourism helps bolster local businesses.
Zirkle had 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 about what building an app for the town would cost, and I’m like, ‘There is no way that we can afford — whatever — $80,000 it was to customize an app,’” Zirkle said.
Still, 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 might be offered at different stops for users who solve them. Local businesses in downtown Bedford have been supportive of 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 scout out the downtown area. They selected small businesses to include based on a list of recommendations provided by town staff, created puzzles and brain teasers to solve related to each destination, then mapped the route and made it available on the app.
Altogether, “developing the tour took a day and a half of field work and another week of database work to load everything into the app,” according to Austin Auclair, director of creative content at Traipse.
“We don’t always send multiple people to set up a tour, but two of us really wanted to check out Bedford,” Auclair said in an email. “Plus, for tours that emphasize small businesses, it helps Traipse to have two people on scene: one person to talk with the staff and learn about the business’s history and priorities, and another to concentrate on building the puzzles for the scavenger hunt. We try to build our scavenger hunt puzzles to bring customers physically into businesses, and to get customers to slow down and actually pay attention to what’s being offered by those businesses.”
Bedford’s Traipse experience launched Aug. 3.
Joining other Virginia localities on the platform, Zirkle said this puts the Town of Bedford more prominently on the Virginia is for Lovers state tourism campaign.
Traipse is used throughout Virginia, including tours in Staunton, Harrisonburg, Winchester, Fredericksburg and the counties of Abingdon, Augusta and Shenandoah.