The new travel luxury is going offline—and you’ll even be rewarded for it

You don’t come here for the wifi.
You don’t come here for the wifi.
Image: Courtesy/Turneffe Island Resort
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One of travel’s big unknowns is wifi: Will the hotel’s connection be reliable? Will you be able to stream Netflix? Will FaceTiming with family at home be possible?

But increasingly, a certain type of traveler is asking a different kind of question: Can my hotel help me stay off Instagram and work email?

In our hyperconnected world, going on vacation is now increasingly about going offline, too. A 2016 survey from Intel Security found that 49% of millennials are keen on leaving their smartphone behind while on vacation. But while many travelers aim to be in the moment, some can’t: The same survey found 55% of respondents who wanted to go off-grid couldn’t manage it.

Hotels and travel companies seem to be figuring out that their guests want help staying offline, whether it’s serving as an intermediary in case of an emergency, providing just enough wifi to check in with family and not much more, or even offering incentives for time spent unplugged.

Pelorus is a travel company that specializes in tailor-made experiential and adventure travel. A member of their team meets with every client before planning their trip, and offer them packages such as the “Unknown” experience, wherein travelers turn up at the airport without knowing where they’re headed. Even though much of their clientele is affluent with high-powered and demanding jobs, Pelorus’s Patrick Tillard says the general trend is that their clients want less, not more, connectivity when they go away.

“Most people’s day to day is so overrun with social media and emails that once they’ve chosen to commit to an experience like skiing or fishing in the middle of nowhere they want to totally disconnect,” Tillard said. “That’s where the planning comes in, because we always have options where if any news needed to get to the guest, we can make sure that it does.”

In addition to this peace of mind, Pelorus also offers personal photographers and videographers to accompany their clients on their once-in-a-lifetime adventures, so they can focus on being in the moment, rather than being on the ‘gram.

But it’s not just hyper-customized, off-the-beaten track travel that’s going offline. Upscale hotel and resort chain Wyndham Grand is offering discounts at some of its properties to guests who are willing to lock away their phones as part of their “Reconnected” experience, aimed at families who are traveling together. Wyndham’s (rather sad) research found that 54% of kids think their parents check their phones too often, while 32% feel unimportant when their parents are on their phones. Wyndham’s “resident reconnecter” Noelle Nicolai explains that the initiative was, at least in part, inspired by hotel general managers who reported seeing so many parents distracted by their phones pool-side or at the restaurant.

“People spend so much time, effort, and money planning family vacations and we wanted to help them make the most of that time together,” Nicolai said. “Reconnected challenges families to trade in screen time for quality time by putting down the phone and engaging in creative play—complete with all the amenities families need for a magical experience—together.”

In addition to a 5% discount on a room rate for participating, the Reconnected program offers guests analog delights including fort-building kits, Instax polaroid cameras to replace Instagram, and bedtime stories—all while guests’ phones are tucked away in a timed lock box.

Of course, spotty wifi in far-off places isn’t something that’s ever been hard to find. The difference now is that travelers are seeking it out rather than tolerating it. As the management of one resort, Turneffe Island Resort in Belize, noted, the company is not planning to improve the speed of its not-exactly-lighting-fast satellite wifi anytime soon, and that’s because guests don’t want it. “When our office fields phone conversations with interested guests, we have had plenty provide feedback that the lack of connectivity is exactly what they’re looking and [they] are excited to be disconnected for the duration of their stay.”

Turneffe’s management added that the unreliable wifi offers guests the best of both worlds: “They have the choice to check in with family and friends should they need to, and an environment conducive to a digital detox and disconnect.”