When it comes to escape rooms, we often picture being locked up in a themed-room, solving a series of clues and riddles, attempting to break free before time runs out. But now, Mystery Towns has taken the game to an entirely new level by turning cities across Canada into giant puzzle boards.
Using a smartphone and the self-guided walking tour app, their guests, or rather players, hit the streets like real-life game pieces. Answering one clue at a time, they race from location to location, on foot or by bike, and if successful, unlock the mystery at the end. It’s interactive, fun, and, most of all, flexible.
“You’re given a storyline that you’ll have to solve, the clues are sequential, so once you get through one, you’ll get the next, but you’ll have an awful lot of fun and see the town in a whole different way.”
Founder, Mystery Towns Tours
What’s more, the experience appeals to tourists and locals alike. Since it leads to different places, like historical landmarks and hidden gems, visitors can explore and learn about a destination without a tour guide. But also, families and friends can compete with each other while discovering surprising facts about where they live.
We wanted to talk with Andrew Nickerson, founder of Mystery Towns, to find out their secret to success. Read on before we give away any hints.
Developing the ultimate walking tour app
Working in the tourism industry for twenty-five years as a product developer, Nickerson strives to create the best guest experience possible. As a riddle master, he tries to solve tricky questions like, how can someone find a place the locals don’t even know about, or how to create a walking tour that’s fun and accessible?
Thinking out of the box, he came up with an innovative solution — the Mystery Towns app. Combining the challenge of an escape room, thrill of the Amazing Race, and knowledge of a tour guide, Nickerson transformed a traditional walking tour into an immersive, mobile reality game.
But while it’s a brain-teasing adventure, players find the app easy to use and enjoy the freedom of choosing their start time on a day that suits their plans and weather conditions. Upon making a booking, they pick a town and storyline, get an email confirmation with the access code, and play whenever they wish. It’s that simple.
Quickly expanding across Western Canada, including popular destinations like Vancouver, Banff, and Victoria, Mystery Towns continues to amaze — and baffle — their guests with twenty clues per storyline and a unified online experience. And Checkfront has been a team player every step of the way.
Launching with a mobile booking system
From the get-go, Nickerson knew that a mobile-friendly booking engine was essential for Mystery Towns. Since a smartphone app runs the tour game itself, it only made sense to take online bookings as well. He wanted end-to-end flexibility so that guests could book and play when it’s convenient for them while using the same device.
As a member of Adventure Hub — a collection of experience providers in Canmore, Alberta — Mystery Towns adopted their booking platform of choice. But Nickerson was already familiar and happy with Checkfront after using the reservation software with his other business, Canmore Uncorked.
Once he saw how Checkfront operates, how he could easily apply it to the food festival side of his business, as well as Mystery Towns, it was a no-brainer. The booking system integrates seamlessly with both websites, and he can control the whole mobile booking process in the back-end — a necessity for Mystery Towns.
“We want everything to be accessible online. So the information the guest needs to book is there, and once they’ve gone through the process, they can get the information they need to start the game. That allows me to go ahead and offer the product I want, which is entirely at the guest’s convenience.”
Founder, Mystery Towns Tours
Focusing on the work that matters
For Nickerson and his app developer, building games in a new town is no easy feat. They have to pinpoint the average time it takes to solve certain clues, and how long it usually takes to walk between locations. By doing this, they’re able to refine each game so that it’s challenging, but not impossible to complete.
Meanwhile, writing a series of clues for unique storylines also takes a considerable amount of time. Nickerson does the research himself, often inspired by a piece of history, and goes around taking hundreds of photographs for every detail. He then carries out multiple tests to make sure everything is just right.
One of the biggest challenges for Nickerson is trying to work on the product while running the business. With the help of Checkfront, however, he can put in the time he needs to fine-tune the app because Mystery Towns mostly runs itself. From self-booking to self-guiding, it’s an entirely automated process.
Not only that, but having access to Checkfront’s API makes it easy for Mystery Towns to expand across the country since he can quickly integrate it with whatever he’s building next. Nickerson says, “Checkfront has been invaluable to me knowing that I can simply clone the product and update it to fit the new town or new particular game I’m working on.”
Committing to growth and innovation
Being a tech-based tour operator, Nickerson continues to push the boundaries with the walking tour app — always making improvements and testing new features. And he sees that Checkfront, as a partner, is committed to doing the same with reservation technology.
“You aren’t keeping the product the same,” Nickerson says, “you’re always looking to the next bit of development and how to make things easier.” He’s also impressed by the support and development teams, as they’re “interested in fielding our questions and very active in trying to find solutions.”
No matter the hour, even working late into the night, he can fire off a question to Checkfront Support and count on getting an immediate response. Most often, the answer comes with a video, which he finds extremely useful as a visual learner for figuring out how to do something.
“I’ll always be asking questions, and with our future product plans, there’s going to be additional help required, and I’m confident that we’re going to get there.”
Founder, Mystery Towns Tours