Smartphones add a new twist to travel
An increasing number of foreign tourists are planning their entire trips, all the way down to their menu choices, using smartphone apps that access online reviews
Sipping coffee at a sidewalk café at Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery and Coffee Shop in Solvang, California is an ideal place to observe tourists that line the streets and watch new trends in what visitors’ interests are in this rural Scandinavian town.
One sight is obvious. Foreign tourists spend as much time looking at the screen on their smart phones as they do absorbing the beautiful archecture and shop windows of this “transplanted” Danish town of 5,000+ residents. When they pause, they are taking a digital photo. Some visitors are reading the content on their phone that describes the information retrieved by clicking on a QR code posted in a tourist guide in their hands. Many click on “Yelp” for consumer ratings.
At the Solvang Inn and Cottages where I am staying while researching the Danish side of my family genealogy, a daily coupon is offered for coffee and a Danish pastry at a sidewalk café across the street at Olsen’s Bakery. Susy and Bent Olsen, a 4th generation line of master bakers from Denmark, own the motel, Red Viking restaurant and bakery for over 40 years. “We ship pastries from our online catalog throughout the continental United States,” Bent said. (see www.olsensdanishvillagebakery.com)
Olsen’s Bakery has a 4+ rating on Yelp. While I’m having coffee, a couple at the next table is reading the comments on Yelp, preparing to order pastry. Before they approach the actual showcase of pastries, they ponder the posted comments for the most highly-rated pastries and then go to the showcase to order eclairs.
A “new twist” in tourism that I’m observing is that some of the Asian travelers have pre-planned trips in advance on the Web through “apps” on their cell phones.
The town of Solvang is the “Danish Capitol of America,” where 3,000 tourists a week spend the day. Flocks of Canadians and “snow birds” from across the country spend a week or more during the winter to enjoy the host of amenities in food, outdoor activities and shopping. Tour buses roll into town by the dozens and unload tourists from Europe and Asia.
Restaurant owners of the Actor’s Corner Café—a consistently rated 5-star café—shed light on this trend in modern travel. The café’s married owners, Grace Lebecka as manager and Santo Cervello as executive chef, said that 90% of their International visitors come from Yelp. Local residents make up the bulk of their clientele seeking a menu of European-styled culinary art. (see www.yelp.com/biz/actors-corner-cafe-solvang)
“Some of the Asian tourists that come to eat have pre-planned their day in Solvang months before to include where they eat and even what their menu choice is intended for a specific evening. When they eat, their cell phones document photos of the surroundings in front of them, their dinner companion and even the plate of food. Then, they send the visual journal back to friends and family,” he said.
Sitting in the courtyard of the Actor’s Corner Café were two tables of Chinese tourists. At one table were four young males, three from Beijing and one from LA that answered the question, “How did you happen to select the Actor’s Corner Cafe?”
“We were in San Francisco for a wedding of a friend. Returning for our flight from LAX, we wanted to have lunch along the way. We looked at Yelp, saw the 5-star ratings, the photos from the menu and the reviews, and drove a few miles out-of-our-way to Solvang.”
“Guests often make their selection from a picture, like on “Yelp” or Facebook,” said manager Grace, “and we take extra care to provide the style, beauty and accents that they come for. Our guests take pictures of the food and the people at the table and post it on Yelp as it is happening.”
“Our menu is fresh, simple, artful and prepared with style,’ said Chef Santo, “I come out of the kitchen to chat with our guests – to make sure that their palette for taste measures up to expectations on their plate.”
Overall, public feedback is a growing trend from the “voice” of consumers and visual sharing in social networks.
Yelp is an online site based out of San Francisco that posts customer reviews, screenshots, and recommendations for restaurants, shopping, entertainment and services. Some businesses get 5-Star ratings, some get low ratings by disappointed customers, and some blogs criticize the system for unfiltered postings.
Many tourists today tend to preserve the memories of sights (and sites) through their iPhones or iPads, budget their trip economically in travel and group tours; yet spend extra dollars in self-selected “high end” adventures in food and entertainment.
Smart phones add an exciting new twist to how tourists capture and preserve their travels, share the moments in instant visual communications in the networks of new media and replay the adventure time and time again.
This article originally appeared in the March 4, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.