From Canada to the Gobi Desert, hotels in unique locations are finding ways to get guests to put down their smartphones and enjoy a phone-free vacation.
GLOBAL REPORT—Some people love the idea of taking “Instagrammable” photos with their smartphones while on vacation, but some hotels are helping guests unplug from their phones and take in the experience.
At the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in Aruba, the hotel offers an incentive to guests who leave their phones at check-in through its “Digital Detox” program, which awards Marriott Bonvoy points for each day spent without a phone.
“The amount of points given will depend on how long the guest was able to last without their phone,” Carolina Voullieme León, director of sales and marketing at the Aruba Marriott, said via email. “For example, if they’re able to go without their phone for 24 hours during a two-night stay, they’ll receive 5,000 Bonvoy points. For longer stays of five or six nights, if they can go 72 hours without their phones they’ll receive 6,000 Bonvoy points, and so on.”
The Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino in Aruba offers a “Digital Detox” program where guests leave their phones at the front desk at check in. Guests are rewarded in Marriott Bonvoy points for each day they are able to go without their smartphones. (Photo: Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino)
This is a challenge for some, as it is easy for guests to connect to Wi-Fi at the hotel, even for international guests, she said.
León added the hotel started offering the program because of the number of guests they see glued to their phones while on vacation.
“(We) wanted to provide them with an option that encourages them to disconnect from technology and the need to be constantly updating social status or checking emails,” she said. “With this new option, we hope that our guests will be able to live in the moment and enjoy the beauty of the One Happy Island without feeling tethered to the digital world. There’s so much to enjoy here. … When you’re not taking the time to look at your screen every few minutes, you can really take in the experiences without interruption and enjoy them to the fullest.”
The program is new, but guests who have participated usually end up realizing they didn’t miss their phone as much as they thought they would, she said.
No phones in the Gobi Desert
The Three Camel Lodge, located in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, does not have Wi-Fi or cell service, but that has never deterred guests.
The lodge is made up of 40 yurts with an adjoining bathroom and shower, and it offers “an authentic nomadic experience equipped with modern luxuries and amenities,” Undraa Buyannemekh, president of Nomadic Expeditions and Three Camel Lodge, said via email.
“Our lodge provides the ultimate off-the-grid experience largely because of its setting,” she said. “In the Gobi, life moves at a slower pace, and guests feel the serenity and enjoy the quiet from the moment they arrive. Here, travelers are able to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”
Most guests stay for three to four nights, and lately, the hotel has seen a lot of travelers who are 65 and older, as well as young professionals, she said.
Buyannemekh added that the lodge offers tours throughout the Gobi Desert and day trips, and after a day of exploring, guests can relax on the veranda, opt in for a massage or stargaze, “as the night sky view here is unsurpassable.”
The Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert comprises 40 yurts with adjoining bathrooms. The property has no Wi-Fi or cellular service. (Photo: Three Camel Lodge)
Three Camel Lodge reaches its target audience through word of mouth, its website and social media, and the lodge is also a “founding member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World,” she said.
“Mongolia is now an accessible destination for travelers and offers a unique experience for anyone looking for an authentic travel destination,” she said. “Mongolia provides educational and cultural travel experiences and is a very low-volume, relatively untouched travel destination.”
Canadian Rocky Mountains
The Canadian Rocky Mountains is another place where it’s hard to find cell reception, which is where the Emerald Lake Lodge is located.
Caitlyn Murphy, marketing manager for Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, which manages Emerald Lake Lodge, said it is almost completely unplugged and free of tech to enhance the guest experience.
Much of the experience is being outside, which includes hiking, walking the trails and having s’mores by the fire, she said.
Emerald Lake, which was discovered 130 years ago by Canadian outfitter and guide Tom Wilson, has become a tourist destination over the years, so the lodge really only has to push its digital-free offerings during shoulder seasons, she said.
Murphy added that the hotel believes it is important to disconnect from smartphones to reconnect with nature, and that experiencing the outdoors is good for mental health.