Tech Free Moments: Reconnect to Disconnect

As a hospitality strategist and avid traveler, I was inspired by a recent getaway to an unexpected Wi-Fi-free zone and wanted to explore a simple idea: how can hotels and brands promote guest wellbeing through digital detox initiatives that don’t feel like a tech-free crash diet?

I often wonder what will be the next innovation of tech enhancements to reach the everyday hotel and impact the guest experience? Could it be no tech? As a brander focused on changing customer behaviors and trends, and specifically how wellness is becoming a bigger priority across demographics in the hospitality industry, I’m beginning to see an opportunity emerge.

A future frontier where wellness meets hotels is decidedly a blast from the past and device-free. And it’s not just about a handful of isolated and remote digital detox destinations and retreats. City center, business traveler-centric and weekend getaway hotels have an opportunity to think about changing preferences for increased mindful moments via mini technology escapes and offer new services and experiences that line up what customers are seeking.

The concept is simple. As hoteliers, we have the ability to offer getaway experiences in our brands and hotels to guests. While there is nothing new about this, one of those experiences is helping people optimize digital time, maximize work productivity digitally and as a result, get offered the luxury or reward of some digital-free time. Is this possible? I think so.

Many might think the idea of needing a digital detox, even for a few minutes a day, is a joke.

Hoteliers are constantly bombarded with a push to get the newest, most interesting and guest-driven tech into our properties and brands (I’ve even written about this). That being said, data doesn’t lie. Recent research of U.K. citizens by Ofcom showed that 78% couldn’t live without a smartphone, yet 15% said being online made them feel like they are always working. And 54% believe devices interrupt face-to-face time with family.

The 2018 Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey of Americans shows that 39% felt they checked smartphones too often, that smartphone distractions limit their ability to make sound connections with friends and family (e.g., think business travel networking and personal getaway time), and 63% are trying to limit smartphone usage—but only half of those succeed.

This sums up what I see as a very simple reality: mobile connectivity is becoming more critical for us all, but more and more of us are looking for tech breaks.

This is where hotels come in. Hotels are the ultimate break. Customers are getting away from the everyday ho-hum of life and inherently off their routines. At times and for many, taking a tech break doesn’t make sense. But for what I see as a growing number of us, it could—especially in small doses.

So, what can hotels and brands do about it? Is there a business opportunity here? Is this a new differentiator in the marketplace that separates properties and brands from others and has the potential to increase revenue streams and create closer connections between hotels and guests? Isn’t this what we’re all really trying to do? This strategist thinks yes. To explore this new frontier, I recommend a three-step approach—optimize, educate and isolate.

Making guest connectivity stress-free is critical. Easy to say and hard to do, but working with a local hospitality-focused provider to ensure appropriate amounts of bandwidth and tech connectivity helps reduce added stress for travelers.

Ensuring customers can download and upload large files simultaneously and have access to strong network signals for multiple carriers during meetings and business travel is important. Nothing is more stressful than needing to get online and having a subpar connection—and, you don’t want to be forever marked in guests’ minds as the cause of this massive stress. Optimizing network connectivity allows guests to maximize productivity when they need to be online, reduces potential travel-related stresses and provides opportunities to break away from tech when they want to.

If you’re offering low-tech options, tell guests what you’re doing. Don’t scare or preach, just make them aware. Add simple cards to rooms and mention at check-in and conference registration that while your hotel and brand are focused on bandwidth to make online time productive, you also like to balance connectivity with digital-free spaces that allow guests to break away.

The education component is as critical as the actions themselves. Away from home, it might be easier and more possible for guests to try something new. Let your hotel or brand be the one to help them see tech-free moments and digital detox not as a punishment, but as a reward.

Create tech-free opportunities—you’re not telling anyone what to do, you’re just highlighting choices that they may not have considered otherwise. These can be physical device-free zones, such as an alcove or quiet reading area off the lobby, a few seats at the bar designed for mingling with neighbors or a private outdoor space for meditation. You can also encourage tech-free time in the guestroom, highlighting a few ideas for ways to disconnect before bed.

Inspired? Interested in trying this out or encouraging your team to test these ideas? It’s easy to start small (i.e. low-budget). Consider these four thought-starters.

  1. Guestroom: Create a mobile phone ‘bed’ in guest rooms—close to a power source but away from the real bed. Offer guests the opportunity to borrow a book of short stories from a small collection you have and challenge them to go digital-free for 30 minutes before going to sleep.
  2. Common spaces: Create two or three small digital-free spaces and signpost them. Proudly highlight these areas during check-in. Add simple elements to activate the spaces based on their purpose (i.e. if the space is more appropriate for quiet time alone vs. one for networking and meeting new people).
  3. Meetings: Develop branded programming and guides as options for your meeting organizers to plug-and-play into their programs. Focus on incorporating mini digital breaks, ‘suggested rules’ for being present, device-free meetings and even incentives for remaining digital free during certain times.
  4. Packages: When it comes to leisure travel, there are a wealth of options. Build day-long activity packages coupled with stays that are focused on a short digital break. From providing printed maps and recommendations on activities, to offering burner phones (i.e., with no internet) for emergencies. The options to get creative are endless.

This article originally appeared on Hotel News Now in December 2018. Click below to check it out.