Eight years ago, Darren Smith was looking for a way to protect historic business districts, while supporting local businesses. Smith, an urban planner and self-described “puzzle nerd”, found his answer in gamified tours of neighborhoods, with puzzles players had to solve. So he formed a company, Traipse, to develop and market the concept, running it full-time starting in 2018. Now, he’s developing a blockchain-based currency for local communities to use with his app.
“It’s about helping people understand the importance of these places and of the local independent businesses that keep them alive,” says Smith.
The free app provides access to gamified walking tours that take the form of scavenger hunts. Specifically, it leads visitors on a tour of historic downtowns with stops at such landmarks as buildings, statues or locally owned businesses. At each location, there’s a puzzle to solve. Example: The Statler Brothers Tribute monument, a sculpture garden in Staunton, Va., that commemorates the country/gospel musicians with four stools on a platform, a nod to the stools they used to sit on while performing. When visitors arrive at the site, the app asks them to solve the following puzzle: “If the band were here singing their four-part harmonies, how many legs would you see?” (The answer is 24).
There’s also a bonus puzzle with multiple clues that players solve as they traverse along the route. In some cases, local businesses award tote bags and the like to be picked up at the end of the scavenger hunt.
So far, Traipse has created tours in about 20 areas, mostly in the Mid-Atlantic, with the majority in Virginia It’s also in other places like Taneytown, Md., a municipality near Gettysburg, brimming with civil war history, and Huntersville, DC. The company has also created scavenger hunts for college campuses, like one for Wellesley College targeting a homecoming event, hotels and other places.
In 2019, the downtown development association in Smith’s home base of Staunton, Va., approached him about revamping the town’s gift card program for local businesses and replacing it with a local digital currency program. In short order, he started organizing a crowdfunding campaign. But then came the pandemic, which forced him to put the project on hold. Plus, his progress was further slowed down by the complicated legal issues involved in adopting the dollar-pegged Celo blockchain network. The result: It wasn’t until the middle of last year that he was able to start developing the product in earnest.
The currency, called My Local Token, involves a coin bearing a QR code, which is integrated with the Trapise app. (There’s also an app version of the gift cards). Thus, players who participate in a Traipse tour earn “MLT” points that can be used at local stores. Coins can be bought from the Traipse web site or at businesses in the community, typically establishments off the beaten track that don’t usually attract a lot of tourists.
Ultimately, Smith plans to add the ability for participants to create their own tours and stops in the Traipse app, and earn My Local Tokens by doing so. Users also will be able to earn rewards for steps like correcting information already in the app. As the user community grows, Traipse will implement a decentralized administration system through which participants can vote for how the MLT rewards pool will be allocated for various actions. “The aim is to create a system for user generated content within the game that would reward people in the local currency, so it becomes a comprehensive self-sustaining ecosystem,” says Smith,
Traipse started testing the coins in May with a group of merchants and about 50 players. Smith is now enlisting more stores, preparing for a big promotional push in October, in anticipation of the holiday season. He says he’s also talking to other communities interested in introducing the system in their localities.
Traipse earns its revenues from local groups, like Chambers of Commerce, tourism agencies and economic development organizations, which pay the company to create tours in their areas. Customers primarily come from referral/word-of-mouth and outreach at regional and national Main Street conferences. Last year, the company also conducted a direct mail campaign to accredited Main Street organizations and local tourism/economic development agencies.