Are Technology-Free Hotels the Future of Hospitality?
A new batch of properties are doing everything they can to make sure guests use their vacation to disconnect
According to a 2018 study involving 2,000 U.S. adults, most check their phones an average of 80 times a day, or once every 12 minutes, while on vacation. Some even check their phone more than 300 times each day. A second study conducted in the same year and of the same sample size determined that 43% of U.S. adults find it difficult to completely unplug, specifically from work, while on vacation.
This was, of course, prior to the pandemic, which — thanks to the introduction of apps like Zoom and Slack — exacerbated the issue greatly.
But it was also in 2018 that hotel groups began taking notice and recognizing our reliance on technology as a problem. Wyndham Grand was one of the first on that front, observing that their guests were bringing an average of 12 devices, per family, with them on a trip.
“Adults and kids are so glued to their devices that we’ve had to add more pool chairs to accommodate all the poolside swiping,” Lisa Checchio, chief marketing officer for Wyndham, said in a statement at the time.
“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,” Lisa Checchio, Chief Marketing Officer for Wyndham, said at the time. “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.”
It inspired the brand to implement “phone-free zones” at pools and restaurants across several of its U.S.-based properties, even going so far as to offer special perks and various discounts to those who honored the no-phone policy.
Fast forward to 2022, and “technology-free” is now being pedaled as an amenity across several notable properties, whose guests seek them out because of it. Sheldon Chalet, for example, doesn’t have any TVs, phones — save for the emergency phone system — or wifi on the entire property. That, according to owner and property manager Marne Sheldon, is mostly due to Sheldon Chalet’s location — on a nunatak 10 miles from the summit of Denali in the Don Sheldon Amphitheater inside Alaska’s Denali National Park. In other words: the signal strength isn’t excellent. If anything, Sheldon counts it a selling point.
“Building here we were inspired from the beginning to give people a chance to disconnect from their busy lives and really take a vacation,” Sheldon says. “It’s very seldom in 2022 that people really have an opportunity to truly go off the grid and do so in a luxurious and amazing way that they can spend their nights looking at shooting stars and the aurora, rather than scrolling Instagram or watching the news.”
“At first people always worry that they are going to miss something, or [they] can’t imagine not being able to post on social media about their experience while they are having it,” she adds. “Once they arrive they always love it. It really gives them a chance to relax, reflect and rest. Sitting and looking out to the mountain peaks, reading a book in the hammock, enjoying food without color correcting a photo to post about it or texting someone to tell them about it is truly something we should actually be doing more often.”
You don’t need to travel 4,400 miles to Alaska to enjoy a tech-free hotel, either. Wylder Hope Valley in California offers neither TV or wifi, with the exception of inn public areas. Their offerings — which include wood fired saunas, bike rentals, guided hikes, lawn games, snowshoe rentals, etc. — are meant to encourage guests to enjoy the outdoors. None of the other Wylder properties have phones.
Eastwind, a boutique hotel located in Windham, New York, also considers its lack of technology a point of pride. “By design, there are no TVs on the property to encourage guests to be present with their loved ones,” says co-founder Julija Stoliarova. Like at Wylder Hope Valley, guests at Eastwind are encouraged to really indulge in the property and the surrounding area.
Even larger hotel brands are adopting some semblance of a technology-free approach, instead looking to expand on their low-tech, high-touch luxury amenities. Rosewood Little Dix Bay has excluded televisions from the in-room experience — “to place a greater emphasis on the inherent value of spending mindful time in nature” — and has recently launched a new custom game collection, designed to support guests in rediscovering the art of in-person connection in accordance with the property’s “disconnect to reconnect” philosophy.
All of that said, the answer to the question of whether or not tech-free hotels are the future of hospitality is, frankly, probably not.
“[It’s] an interesting trend, but very unlikely to become mainstream,” Tim White, CEO and Founder of MilePro, posits. “The main reason is that one of the biggest revenue drivers for hotels is business travel. Data shows that business travel is recovering and it’s pretty obvious that business travelers will never stay at hotels that don’t offer internet or other tech accommodations.”
It doesn’t mean that we won’t see more examples crop up in the future, though. After all — just because so many U.S. adults find it virtually impossible to unplug, doesn’t mean they have no desire to do so. The good news for them is that if (and when) the want starts to overpower the need…they’ll have plenty of options.
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