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Spotlight on: digital detox hotels

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In an ever-connected world, tech-dependent travellers are increasingly discarding their devices for the opportunity to unplug. Click. explores

Growing awareness for mental health coupled with the pressures of social media are prompting a growing number of travellers to disconnect from their screens while on vacation.

According to the 2019 Alamo Rent A Car Family Vacation Survey, an overwhelming 91% of American families find the idea of an “unplugged” vacation appealing. Of those who have already committed to a device-free holiday, 41% enjoyed themselves more, 40% had better conversations and 38% felt more relaxed.

To tap into this trend, properties offering ‘digital detoxes’ are gaining momentum. From declaring ‘phone free’ zones and offering rewards to guests who disengage to off-the-grid properties ditching Wi-Fi altogether, hoteliers are now touting experiences that encourage guests to live in the moment.

One such property is the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Mexico, which offers travellers rewards in exchange for their gadgets: “Guests opting to participate in the digital detox programme can trade-in their electronics at check-in for complimentary activities,” says Juan Vela, Vice President of Velas Resorts. “Guests are given a bracelet in exchange for their electronics that guarantees them a bike tour, eco tour of the property’s flora and fauna, snorkelling tour and, for adults, Se Spa’s renowned Water Journey. A minimum of four days is required for the programme and they must earn a total of four activity bracelets (one for each day) in order to receive their electronics back.”

“We wanted to free guests from the minute-to-minute stresses associated with technology and focus on enjoying quality time with one another,” continues Vela. “At first, guests are ambivalent about letting go of their devices, but the programme draws their attention to the many activities we offer and encourages their participation, which they’re ultimately happy about.”

Connecting guests

Rather than offering a programme for individual guests, Kimpton Taconic saw the value in offering a ‘digital detox’ package for corporate meeting groups. And for good reason, with studies showing that smartphones can decrease people’s productivity and creativity. Moreover, research shows that the mere presence of a mobile, in hand or not, reduces people’s cognitive capacity.

Dubbed ‘Cut the Corporate Cord’, Kimpton Taconic’s team-building package offers one of two media check-in programmes: The #-A-Day Programme, where attendees can check their phone in with hotel staff for 15 minutes of digital freedom at a time in the morning, lunchtime and prior to dinner, or the ‘Cold Turkey Detox Programme’ where phones are checked in for the duration of the meeting - rewarding those who checked back with their devices the least.

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Of those who have already committed to a device-free holiday, 41% enjoyed themselves more. Photo: credit to Paul Hanaoka, Unsplash


“Instead of ignoring colleagues to spend time with their screens, attendees will engage with each other during numerous team-building activities,” says John Burnham, General Manager of Kimpton Taconic. “The programme has a lot of benefits. You will notice that without tech, guests may interact more with one another and share ideas that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Redefining luxury

Earlier this year, Hotel Bellora created the ‘Check Out Suite’ as an experiment at its property, encouraging guests to stay off their phones in exchange for a free night stay. Teaming up with Swedish insurance company, Länsförsäkringar, the property used a Skärmfri (screen-free) smart lamp to record how much time guests spent online. Gradually changing from white to red, the price of the room increases as the light changes - with the rate then calculated directly based on your internet usage.

“When we launched the project we immediately saw enormous interest,” says Mariana Gaete, General Manager at Hotel Bellora. “The impact was huge because we can all relate to the usage of screens. I think most people are very aware of how much we depend on them and this awareness leads to contemplation on how and when we use our phones, iPads, computers etc.

“I really think we will be seeing more of these kinds of offers in the future. I think we are redefining the meaning of luxury. To be able to turn off the computer, the phone or the tablet and have a conversation with my niece and nephew is the ultimate luxury for me. And I think most people feel the same about their loved ones.”


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Hero image: credit to Alvaro Reyes, Unsplash
  • Travellers are increasingly disconnecting from their screens while on vacation
  • To tap into this trend, properties offering ‘digital detoxes’ are gaining momentum
  • From creating ‘phone free’ zones to offering packages for corporate groups, there are a number of ways hoteliers are encouraging guests to switch off