Many municipalities and tour sites struggle as tourism numbers have significantly dropped in 2020 because of COVID-19. One spinoff from the University of Waterloo, Driftscape, is helping promote activities for several destinations.

North Bay is the most recent city to launch with Driftscape. The city was thinking about a “white label” app (an app that could be built and rebranded for multiple purposes) that would work for only North Bay and target only its audience. When introduced to Driftscape, the city’s tourism office saw the opportunities. First, audiences across Canada would see their city as one of the many cities included so they could promote their tourist sites and hiking trails to a broader audience. Secondly, it’s more cost-effective if someone else is continually updating, adding new features, maintaining and fixing an app.

Initially, Driftscape was created in the lab of Distinguished Professor Emeritus Don Cowan (MSc '61, PhD '65) in the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. The team wanted to build an app that would help users discover interesting things in a city or town, right down to specific neighbourhoods — like a concierge in your pocket. However, this concierge doesn’t just point you to the spot — it tells you a story.

“The one thing I really like about Driftscape is the fact that it’s location-aware,” says Marcia Nykamp, director of sales for Driftscape. “Even if the app is closed, you can get a notification about something that’s nearby that you didn’t know was there. You can easily find new things to explore.”

Since the pandemic started, fewer destinations want to handle paper maps and guides, and it’s not safe to have groups led by tour guides. Tours are one of Driftscape’s most popular features. In Brockville, tour guides would walk you through Canada’s first railway tunnel pre-COVID. Today, visitors can use Driftscape, walk through the tunnels at their own pace and listen to the audio at each stop.

“You can tour from your couch if you want. One of the original tours was a tour along the edge of Lake Ontario that we developed with First Story Toronto,” Cowan says. “They took content from their walking tours following indigenous routes and incorporated them into Driftscape.”

Destinations provide the content and work with Driftscape’s customer success team to create strategies and structures to help them share their stories. New features are always being added, such as augmented reality and a soon-to-be-released tool called Quests that enables destinations to create scavenger hunts.

“Driftscape is a complementary tool to existing Visitor Centre services as a way to communicate with visitors and locals,” Nykamp says. “Even though you’re not travelling now, you can explore from home and keep destinations top-of-mind for when we can travel again.”

Download the free Driftscape app for your smartphone or tablet and start planning for future trips. Destinations include northern and eastern Ontario, Toronto, 450 Cancarta historical sites, people and events, the Interlake region in Manitoba and many more locations. Or, sit on the couch, tour and catch up on Heritage Minutes videos.