Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hello, Mr. Foreign Tourist: May I Help You?

What brings tourists from abroad to Chez Sven in the fall? They do not see the Outer Cape as a place to visit only when the sun shines, ie. in summer, as American visitors are wont to do. Guests from Britain, The Netherlands, Germany, and France are here to experience small-town America. Sitting on a beach is not their thing. They have chosen Wellfleet for the unique atmosphere of a small New England town and the proximity of the Cape Cod National Seashore. If their needs are met, chances are these folks will gush to friends about vacation, and more travelers will choose to visit the Outer Cape in the future.

“Driving up, we felt like we had a blindfold on. Everything was dark. Now today, we will get to take the blindfold off,” declared one eager guest as he set out to explore with his wife. It’s important to remember tourists from abroad see our town with different eyes. They do come for the beauty, yes, but also seek out the opportunity to observe local culture and have a “foreign” experience. There’s a great verb in French to describe this type of vacation: depayser, which means to get a total change of scene. Today let’s try and address what tourists want and whether they find it here in Wellfleet.

First off, summon up the mindset of a guest from Europe. Imagine a couple wheelie suitcases, a rental car, a guidebook or two, travelers checks. The typical tourist stands before us. We must meet his/her needs.

A few suggestions of what those needs may be:

1.) Easy access to restaurants for lunch and dinner
2.) Interesting indoor activities when the weather is not perfect
3.) Historical context
4.) Local color
5.) Well maintained nature trails and hikes

The foreign tourist’s needs are sometimes very elementary, which is why I put food at the top of my list. Tourists must be fed three decent meals. At breakfast this morning, one guest commented on the fresh fruit salad. “Do you realize how difficult it is to eat fruit when you're traveling?” she said. Eating away from home can be daunting. The astute B&B host will do her best to provide a wholesome breakfast. But, what about other meals? “Challenging” is how I describe my search for appropriate dinner offerings in fall. After Oysterfest, seasonal staff leave town. Restaurants are not necessarily insulated and many must close until spring. This means only a few options remain: The Bookstore, The Wicked Oyster, The Lighthouse, Finely JPs, Town Pizza, and, new-bistro-on-the-block, PB.

Number 2, interesting indoor activities. Augh! This is a tough one. In Boston, tourists can spend rainy days at the Fine Arts Museum. We have nothing similar on the Outer Cape. There’s a bowling alley in Orleans, a mall in Hyannis, and several movie theaters, but usually guests are not in the mood for that type of activity. Generally, they do Chatham or Provincetown, with umbrellas.

Historical context. Someone could organize year-round cultural tours of Cape Cod and make a good living. One such organization exists in Sandwich, but not here. It should. Pilgrim trails, check; monuments, check; old houses like Atwood Higgins, check; small museums, check. A lot to build on, in other words, but no cultural tours.

Fourth on my list is local color. Folks harvesting cranberries. Shellfishermen collecting oysters on the flats. Whales swimming offshore. Openings at art galleries. Tourists get a kick out of this type of thing. And, we have Provincetown as a nearby destination – travel 25 minutes for a total jolt to the senses.

Finally, nature. Lots of that right here in Wellfleet. The Marconi site, with its Atlantic White Cedar Swamp trail, and the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary offer perfect nature walks. But the biggest draw remains the majestic Atlantic Ocean and its miles of deserted beach.

Okay. Your turn. What type of experience do you seek out when you go abroad? What was your best foreign vacation ever and why? Readers who live abroad, what do you think of my list? Why do you come to Wellfleet?