Can you take a vacation from your cellphone? A growing number of hotels will help you find out.
Some resorts are offering perks, like snorkeling tours and s’mores, to guests who manage to give up their cellphones for a few hours. Some have phone-free hours at their pools; others are banning distracting devices from public places altogether.
Hotels that limit cellphone use risk losing valuable exposure on Instagram or Facebook, but they have said that the policies reflect their mission of promoting wellness and relaxation.
And, of course, they hope that happily unplugged guests will return for future visits.
“Everyone wants to be able to disconnect. They just need a little courage,” Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc chief marketing officer Lisa Checchio said.
People’s inability to disconnect is an increasingly serious issue.
Half of smartphone users spend between three and seven hours per day on their mobile devices, a global survey by technology consulting firm Counterpoint Research found last year.
In a separate study by the nonprofit Common Sense Media, 69 percent of parents and 78 percent of teens said that they checked their devices at least hourly.
Wyndham knew it had a problem when hotel managers requested more beach chairs to accommodate all the people who would sit in them and stare at their smartphones. It discovered that the average resort guest was carrying three devices and checking them once every 12 minutes — or about 80 times per day.
On Oct. 1, Wyndham Grand’s five US resorts began offering prime spots by the pool, free snacks and the chance to win return visits when guests put their smartphone in a soft, locked pouch. The devices stay with the guests, but only hotel staff can unlock the pouches.
Wyndham said that 250 people have used the pouches so far at resorts in Florida and Texas.
The program is next year to be found at more Wyndham hotels.
Wyndham Grand resorts also give families a 5 percent discount on their stay if they put their smartphones in a timed lockbox. The hotel provides supplies for a pillow fort, s’mores, a bedtime book and an instant camera for adults and kids who do not know what to do with all the newfound time on their hands.
That appealed to Matthew Cannata, head of public relations for the New Britain, Connecticut, school district. He worries about the impact of technology on his two young children and he tries to keep devices out of sight during family meals.
“Any chance I can get to put the phone away is great. Sometimes, people need to be forced to do things to start a thought process and then create a habit,” he said.
At the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Mexico, a so-called “detox concierge” will “cleanse” your suite of all electronic devices and replace them with games like Jenga and chess.
Guests at its sister resort, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, trade in their smartphones for a bracelet that gives them free access to activities like snorkeling; they must do at least four activities to earn back their devices. A timer placed in the lobby shows how long each family has lasted without their devices.
Emily Evans liked the idea of rewarding people for putting their smartphones away. A senior at Eastern Kentucky University, she said that she barely keeps her smartphone charged while on vacation, but her girlfriend is constantly checking her cellphone.
“I feel most millennials would choose discounts and saving money over having their phone out to Instagram and Snapchat pictures of their meals,” Evans said.
At Miraval, a Hyatt Hotels Corp-owned resort in Arizona, the emphasis is less on family time than on mindfulness and tranquility. Miraval, which is soon to open two more resorts in Texas and Massachusetts, bans smartphone use in most public areas.
Guests are encouraged to tuck their smartphones into soft cotton bags and leave them on small wooden beds in their rooms. Staff wear name tags with gentle reminders that guests should unplug and “be present.”
Some resorts encourage a total ban.
Wilderness Resorts, an African safari operator, intentionally provides no Wi-Fi at many of its camps.
Adrere Amellal, a 40-room hotel at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, lets guests have smartphones in their rooms, but there is no electricity or Wi-Fi.
Not all vacationers want to be weaned from their devices. Smartphones double as cameras, music players, travel guides and e-readers. They also might be critical in an emergency.
AARP Florida communications manager David Bruns uses two cellphones. He tries not to check his work phone after hours, but he carries his personal phone everywhere.
“I don’t think I would like being made to put the thing down,” Bruns said. “It feels like that is more about me being told what to do by people I am paying to do something for me.”
Ayana Resort and Spa in Bali, Indonesia, understands that, so it tries to meet guests halfway. Its winding River Pool bans smartphones between 9am and 5pm, but it invites guests to take photographs and post away to social media before and after those times.
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