'Digital detox': Hotels help gadget junkies go cold turkey

Story highlights

  • Many find it hard to disconnect, even when on holiday
  • Westin Dublin hotel lets users swap cell phones for "detox survival kit"
  • "Digital detox" next big thing, according to travel industry report
  • But many guests still prefer hotel wi-fi to ditching technology

With the advent of smartphones we've become used to being constantly connected, even when we're on the road or on vacation. But now a growing number of hotels are adding "digital detox" packages to their roster of offerings.

Detox packages are nothing new. For decades, hotels and vacation retreats have enticed guests to "clean out," often with the help of a specialized diet plan and fitness regimens (with a massage thrown in for good measure). These days, the concept is being pushed to help us disconnect from technology. The World Travel Market Global Trends Report even listed digital detox as one of the next big trends to hit the hospitality industry in the coming year.

The push has come on the heels of increasing reports of travelers' inability to "unplug." A recent Google survey found that in the United States, 80% of smartphone users almost never leave their home without their device, while a TripAdvisor survey found nearly half of mobile owners use their phone to augment their vacation (e.g. taking travel photos, researching restaurants, and so on).

Read more: Airlines cash in as in-flight wi-fi takes off

"We've witnessed the increased dependency people now have on their electronic devices," notes Andrew Henning, the general manager at The Westin Dublin, in Ireland.

In March, the hotel introduced a digital detox package to combat this gadget addiction (recently classified in the media as "nomophobia"). Guests that partake in the package stash their electronic devices in a safe, and in exchange get a detox survival kit, which includes a board game, a walking map, a tree-planting kit, and other reminders that life exists beyond the confines of an iPad.

Via Yoga, a company that hosts yoga retreats in Mexico and Costa Rica, feels so strongly about the need for its guests to unplug that it decided to offer a 15% discount as an incentive for anyone willing to give up their iPhone.

"In the last couple of years, people have started carrying their phones and tablets with them all the time," notes Suzie Cavassa, the company founder.

"Our customers were even using them at dinner, or when hanging out by the pool," she says. "They were so preoccupied that they were missing out on the experiences they were paying for."

In-flight Wi-Fi finally takes off?
In-flight Wi-Fi finally takes off?


    In-flight Wi-Fi finally takes off?


In-flight Wi-Fi finally takes off? 03:51

For guests that take the detox option (about 15 per season), Cavassa will lock away their devices and give them an emergency number, so that if someone does really need to reach them, they're not completely out of touch.

"If someone needs to get hold of you, they can. But you're not working or checking Facebook; you're just experiencing the moment, checking out the sunset, or having a great conversation with someone you just met."

The cost of hotel Wi-Fi
The cost of hotel Wi-Fi


    The cost of hotel Wi-Fi


The cost of hotel Wi-Fi 03:39

Cavassa admits that it takes a few days for most guests to stop feeling antsy as a result of the separation from their devices. Physical activities, like surfing and yoga, help make the transition easier, she notes.

"Surfing is the type of activity that forces you to be in the present," she says. "There's no way you're thinking about Facebook or what you have to do at work when a giant wave comes at you."

Via Yoga's detox package is popular, but other venues offering similar packages admit that while there's interest, they're not flooded with bookings.

The Hotel Monaco Chicago provides guests with a "black-out" option, whereby they surrender their gadgets to reception upon checking in.

"We were constantly hearing from guests how they loved that the Monaco was an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city," says Marco Scherer, the hotel's general manager. "We decided to allow our guests the option to experience the ultimate seclusion by voluntarily forfeiting all methods of electronic communication at check-in."

Though guests are intrigued by the package, Scherer says very few actually opt to give up their devices.

"Most guests prefer our free wi-fi," he admits.

Read more: Why are we still paying for hotel wi-fi?

Henning says the same is true at the Westin. While guests from as far afield as Belgium, France, Poland and South Korea have called and expressed interest in the package, none have yet booked it.

He says: "We have found that guests are intrigued by the idea of detoxing from their electronic devices, but are not quite willing to make the commitment to a full digital detox."

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