Digital Detox: Hotels and Travel Companies Give Guests Space To Unplug

Digital detox - phones on the beach

As the world becomes more connected, so do travelers and their phones. A study from Deloitte found that Americans check their smartphones 52 times times a day on average while another survey from Pew Research Center shows that a quarter of U.S. adults admit that they are online almost constantly. For those looking to unplug on vacation, hotels and travel companies have stepped forward, offering phone-free zones and digital detox experiences so that guests can connect with their friends and families in person rather than via screens.

The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, a historic Floridian hotel in downtown St. Pete, has an old-school policy in its spa as well as the lobby library and History Gallery—no phones allowed. Richard Trinidad, spa director at The Vinoy, says that rather than a strict rule that the hotel must enforce, the policy is more of a way to encourage guests to put down their electronics and focus on the experience in front of them. “The ‘no phones’ policy is a gentle reminder that the goal of the spa is to relax, repair, and renew for guests and clients. It’s definitely more of a suggestion rather than a strict policy and always seems to be received as such,” Trinidad explains.

As for how today’s plugged-in travelers react to the policy, Trinidad says that guests more often than not appreciate the hotel’s attempts to promote relaxation. “When it comes to the no phones policy, our clients are typically very understanding and appreciate that we take their relaxing experience seriously. If you do receive an important phone call, we ask that you take it in our seating area away from other clients so they are not disturbed during their services, which our guests always understand.”

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Some hotels go even further to separate guests from their screens. Last year, Wyndham Grand launched its Reconnected Family Experience to bring loved ones closer together while on vacation. The brand kicked off the initiative early in 2018 by piloting a special package at five hotels for families with young children that included analog essentials for making memories: a flashlight, an Instax Polaroid camera, a shadow-puppet book, materials to build blanket forts, and more. Perhaps most importantly, the package came with a timed lockbox for parents to stow their phones during family time.

Later that year, Wyndham Grand expanded the Reconnected Family Experience. Select hotels created VIP areas at pools and restaurants for guests—in exchange for checking their phones. Wyndham Grand partnered with Yondr, which creates phone-free spaces using a locking phone case, to prevent guests from checking their devices while sitting poolside or enjoying a meal in these VIP areas. Guests who participated in the optional phone-free zones had access to special perks, amenities, and prizes.

“Before the pull of technology, we would never dream of wasting time on our phones instead of jumping straight into the pool and soaking up every minute of our vacation,” said Lisa Checchio, chief marketing officer for Wyndham. “But today, adults and kids are so glued to their devices that we’ve had to add more pool chairs to accommodate all the poolside swiping. With these phone-free zones, we’re creating new unplugged oases and tech-free tables that challenge families to consciously put the phone away for an afternoon–or just a meal–and make memories simply being together.”

Tour company Austin Adventures is going even further to sever travelers’ ties with their devices. This summer, its Montana-Big Sky, Yellowstone & Paradise Valley tour is offering two dates—each spanning six days—of technology-free travels. Those willing to sign and adhere to a Digital Detox Pledge will be asked to refrain from any and all use of a cell phone, tablet, laptop, or other electronic devices. As part of the initiative, guides will be available for contact at all times and emergency numbers will be given to family and friends back home. In addition, a professional photographer will take candid and requested photos for guests while guides will post images on social media, encouraging family and friends back home to follow along.

“Knowing how addictive our digital devices can be, we may be setting ourselves up for failure, but all of us feel compelled to try,” says Dan Austin, founder and president of Austin Adventures. “I read that 61 percent of users say they could not go on vacation for a week without use of their smartphone. I think with a little help, a dose of empathy, and some gentle guidance, we may be able to help people kick their habit for a week and perhaps even longer.”