“The danger of relying too much on travel tips from mobile devices and websites”, says Spotted By Locals founder Bart Van Poll, “is that you close your eyes to what else is around you. I sometimes deliberately disconnect from my mobile, and love to just walk around in a city aimlessly.”
Considering that Spotted by Locals just launched a series of mobile city guides for Android, it’s a rather surprising view. There is a twist, however. The guides are all offline. That’s not just to encourage aimless wandering. Roaming charges are high in Europe, and using maps on mobile devices consumes large amounts of data.
Spotted By Locals offers a website and mobile apps listing travel tips from the local residents of 42 European cities. Dutch husband and wife team Bart and Sanne van Poll have created a network of local “spotters” in each city, all of whom they meet and vet in person. What makes Spotted By Locals different is the insider feel of the information. 30 percent of Spotted by Locals users are locals themselves.
The typical user is a frequent traveller who is more interested in experiencing the culture of a city than hitting all the “must-see” sites. “For me, eating a simple local dish in an ugly former communist neighborhood in Zagreb served by a waiter who can’t speak English but is so happy I’ve come to his restaurant has meant so much more to me than visiting the Eiffel tower in Paris,” says Van Poll. In general, though, services like Spotted By Locals are complementary to, rather than competing directly with, the mainstream travel guides.
The mobile guides for Barcelona, Paris, London are most downloaded, but smaller cities like Ljubjana, Zagreb, Hamburg, and Sofia, which travel guide publishers often do not cover, are also popular. You can download a trial version for free, while the full iPhone or Android version costs 3.99 EUR ($4.93) and is updated with new tips for “life”.
Van Poll’s top travel tip? “Get lost deliberately. Hop on a bus or tram, and just get out where it looks interesting. Or follow that cool guy or girl to see where he or she is going. Trust your own judgement and forget about the guidebooks.”
Spotted by Locals was founded in Amsterdam in 2008, is privately funded (and profitable since 2011), and has two full-time employees.