Seventy-two per cent of British travellers have stated in a survey that they prefer to be entirely unplugged or unplugged as much as possible, according to Statista.com.
According to World Travel Market Global Trends report 2016, unplugged tourism is set to be one of the top-10 travel trends for 2017. What that means for local businesses is an adjustment in their business models as well as how they market their products, in order to accommodate market changes.
Typical of any business, trends can turn the market upside down. Travellers have been clamouring for the past decade for more connectivity, more access to Wi-Fi and more opportunities to recharge their tired mobile devices. Travel and hospitality businesses able to offer these benefits used them to leverage sales and increase bookings.
Of course, there is a proportion of the market that still seeks out plugged-in tourism, sharing their holidays from the planning stages all the way to photos of their plane’s wingtips on touchdown at their home airport — the social media fans. They’re researching trips, collecting online advice and sharing everything they do. Forty-two per cent of visitors are currently doing this.
On the other side of the coin are travellers who are the opposite of the selfie generation. The unplugged tourist either shuns the digital world at home or wants to escape from it while on vacation.
They want to get away from a lifestyle that involves hundreds of e-mails every day, constantly buzzing, and WhatsApp messages from clients and colleagues. The volume of communication can be overwhelming and stressful, prompting the very need for an escape.
That’s when the time comes to put the out-of-office signature on, turn off the phone and head out to a world where you don’t need to place memes on social media or be available for sign-off on projects. As long as you have your mobile device with you, you may still be contacted, so some unplugged tourists prefer to leave their phones at home completely, or use an emergency one only with a second sim card that no one knows about.
Unplugged tourism can take place in a remote place with no cell reception, or right in the heart of the city. In SA there are rural islands even in the heart of the urban environment, so it’s possible to have a weekend getaway just up the road and have a different kind of experience because your brain is having a chance to unwind and recharge.
When going off the grid, do make sure that someone on the grid knows how to contact you in case of emergencies; fortunately, “off the grid” refers more to state of mind than an actual disconnect from everything, and if there is an emergency, your contact should be able to track you down.
Places of accommodation are providing the unplugged option as a benefit, and for other places, they are gradually learning that this may be a demand — no phones or Wi-Fi temptation. This provides opportunities for targeted marketing campaigns that speak to the flustered person seeking to unplug.
For a real unplugged experience, you can head out to the desert where the closest thing to contact with the outside world may be a landline (if you’re lucky), and those kinds of holidays are special, but there are also small, secluded places even in urban centres that provide weekend escapes for the urban traveller.
This article was first published in Business Day on 22 November 2016.