Interview with Bart van Poll, Co-Founder of Spotted by Locals

If you are traveling to a new city and want to know where the locals go, Spotted by Locals is one site you want to visit. We sat down with founder Bart van Poll to get the inside scoop.....

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Being the son of an airline pilot and stewardess, I was fortunate to travel a lot when I was young. After turning 21, the airline stopped sponsoring my airline tickets, but I did not stop traveling every chance I got. Luckily I infected my then girlfriend Sanne with the travel bug too.

I'm actually an Economist, and was a management consultant for 8 years before starting travel blog network Spotted by Locals.

How did the idea for Spotted by Locals come about?

10 years ago, there were only paper guidebooks. And of course, that's what we used when doing a city trip. We followed the tips in our preferred brand's guidebook religiously. It was always a pleasure to plan our day in the morning, and plot the spots we wanted to visit on the paper map.

Quite often though, the spots we read about and planned to visit turned out to be closed. If you have walked an hour to get to a restaurant that turns out to be closed, or pay to get into a supposedly hip club that the locals are no longer visiting, you're not amused. On the other hand, we could not really blame the guidebook. A paper guidebook that is re-published just every few years just can't be kept up-to-date.

Another thing that increasingly fascinated us about the guidebooks in the bookstores, is that they were always written by visiting journalists and not by locals. Journalists often write beautifully, but they do not live in the city they write about. It's impossible for them to write an up-to-date guidebook, and really difficult to find out what's really "local". This hit us when we once browsed a guidebook for the city we've been living in for the past 14 years, Amsterdam. Many of the tips in the guidebook that were described as "local hang-outs" certainly were not.

When the blogosphere started blossoming towards 2007, we started relying on blogs by locals instead of paper guidebooks. In Brussels, we found a personal blog by a guy we thought shared our taste. He wrote about a lot of subjects, but also about what he liked to do in Brussels. We decided to "follow" the tips he had, and go to the bars and restaurants he frequents, and walk around in the hidden local neighborhood that was certainly not in our paper guide. We had one of the best city trips ever, because of the tips of this Brussels guy we didn't even know!

This is how Spotted by Locals started.

As an avid traveler, you've experienced a lot of local cultures: what has been your most memorable moment of cultural exchange?

In Ljubljana (capital of Slovenia), locals recommended us to buy a bottle of wine and some snacks at the market, and have a picnic at "The Beach" - nothing more than a few stairs down the river. Many of the locals who were having their picnics were surprised to see tourists there. We had a lovely time chatting with them.

An hour later, we heard some jazz tunes. A local band had started to play music on a stage located IN the river a few hundred meters down-river. It was a magical night.

Amsterdam is the city you call home, but if you could be a local in any other city, which would you choose?

Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, is a magical city. I lived there for a couple of months during my studies, visited it many times after that. It's a wonderful city with a slow place, and I can imagine going there after retirement or so. But for now, nightlife and culture keep me in Amsterdam - I can truly say the more cities I see, the more I love my hometown Amsterdam!

If you met someone at a cocktail party who had never traveled, what story would you share with them?

I would share stories about the places I've "lived" (or actually, stayed for 3 months or longer) since my studies - Seoul, Bangkok, Paris, Paramaribo. I think it would be a good experience for everyone to live in a country for a while, and really get to know the people and culture. It broadens your perspective, and will certainly want you to keep on traveling - unlike a first horrible all-inclusive travel experience some people might try as a first time traveler.

What has been your favorite instance of travelers sharing with you how Spotted by Locals helped them?

Spotters in quite a few cities, such as Vienna, Barcelona and Copenhagen, met visitors of the Spotted by Locals blog who had printed out their articles. It made them very proud to see that, and us too!

Spotted by Locals recently launched an iPhone app - exciting! Tell us about it.

This week, we launched the first ever 100% offline iPhone application with up-to-date tips written by handpicked locals. City guides are available for all our 41 cities in Europe!

Bart, we hope to chat with you in person over a cup of coffee some day soon.

Trippers, check out Spotted by Locals and don't forget to check out their cool iPhone app. ;)