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‘Disconnection & Digital detox’ trend. An opportunity for remote areas in period of post-COVID

Updated: Oct 3



What is "digital detox" ?

Regarding Factiva data’s, the first time ‘digital detox’ has been mentioned was in 2006. If its use increased from 2010, it has only been added three years later on the online Oxford dictionary.

By definition, ‘digital detox’ refers to : « a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.” This detox is structured by some rules defining periods without the use of screens, including disconnecting times more or less long and recurrent. These “offline periods” can fluctuate between several months and less than a day. That way, the writer, Marso. P., even created in 2011, “the world day without mobile-phones”, inviting people to disconnect for three days.


Limits regarding the use of new technologies : Dependency, 'Fear Of Missing Out', 'Joy Of Missing Out'.

Technologies bring challenges related to personal well-being. Humans have to juggle between intense lifestyles, as much in their work fields as in their online social network communities.(Traveltalk, 2018). From several years, experts in sciences and mental health warned individual’s regarding the negative effects related to unbalanced use and long lasting exposition in front of screens. (Traveltalk, 2018). Indeed, on an everyday basis, where the attentions is captured at each instant, online information and social medias became the norm. They generate a dilemma between an online (connection) and offline (disconnection) presence of the individuals. Beside the sleeping context, it is even possible to be physically present but « mentally » somewhere else’s (Simond.M. 2004). Technologies give an instant access to the information, enriching our lives, allowing ourselves to save some time and effort, however there are not without limits.

A Statista' study from 2019 mentioned that 75% of the French people possess a smartphone and another from the CREDOC that the mobile phone is the only equipment knowing an increase of use in 2019 including 82% of the French using it on an everyday basis. On an average, French individuals spend 2h 30 minutes per day on their mobile phone (Terrasson. B. 2020, Mars), 60% declare not being able to live without it. (Ayed. O. 2020, Fe). As a lot of countries, French people have an unregulated consumption of their smartphones. They are 61% to have a look at it as soon as they wake up, 46% even use it while being at the toilets. Almost half of them look at it every 10 minutes.(Bembaron. E. 2019. Oct)

The term “digital addiction” is still into debate between researchers, however; it is possible to say that the use of digital became a reflex, even a dependency. (Roy J. 2019, Sept) Regarding bankmycell.com, even if 47% of smartphone users tried to reduce their use, only 30% succeeded. (Traveltalk, 2018). In 2008, the English post office even mentioned that 13 millions of Britons suffered from “nomophobia” (No mobile Phobia), which is related to the fear to do not have their mobile phone. This phobia occur when the person is feeling stressed while realising the phone doesn’t have any battery anymore or when it has been lost (Euromonitor, 2012). This tendency is directly related to the social phenomenon FOMO, acronym for « Fear Of Missing Out ». Regarding the Oxford dictionary, ‘FOMO’ is related to the feelings of anxiety, regret or even fear related with the consciousness of missing out an exciting or interesting event happening somewhere else. It is also linked to the impulse of taking non-necessary risks just in case, to do not miss an opportunity. That way, in the same line as ‘digital detox’, this consciousness brought up the opposite tendency named ‘JOMO’ acronym for ‘Joy of Missing Out’ (Riley. D. 2020. Jan). Contrary to ‘FOMO’, ‘JOMO’ is related to appreciating what we are doing in the present moment, a choice of being mindful of the present regardless what could happen somewhere else.(Finsa 2020) Such as ‘digital detox’, in that case, consumers are seeking for simplicity and well-being, reconnecting to authentic lifestyles. They wish to reengage connections with their surroundings with the purpose of reducing their stress level, embracing the real world.

People are searching for digital escape and wellbeing. An opportunity for the tourism indutry.

In accelerated modern societies, saturated by the digital, consumers are searching for ways to escape their everyday lives. As they have less and less time to think, humans are facing temporal ‘ghetto’ where their attention is constantly caught. Spaces became physically, socially and psychologically tiring, asking for instant emotional and mental energy (Rifkin 1987, 165). More people feel the need to escape from a culture based on fast consumption where daily activities go from eating to meditating (a meditation accomplished in 3 minutes with the use of an app), done in accelerated mode, without leaving enough time to reflect and rest.

In 2018, Internet research regarding ‘digital detox’ knew a 42% increase and one on five customers engaged in a ‘digital detox’. (Begley Bloom. L. (2019, August)) More and more travellers seem wanting to disconnect, to detatch themselves to their electronic devices and even more while they are in vacation. Disconnection became a necessity. ‘Digital detox’ is a therapeutic rehabilitation (Paris et al. 2015), with similar values to ‘JOMO’. A wide range of reasons can push people to engage in those practices. Despite reducing the ‘addictive’ effects, the main reason is to embark in a reasonated management of the online medias. It is important to notify that the majority of individuals would rather a ‘digital moderation’ than a simple ‘digital detox’. (Bassett. A. 2020, Mars). This means going into a digital detox to learn how to moderate and regulate the use of media consumption in a sustainable way to afterwards integrate the technics into their daily routine. That way, individuals engage slower forms of consumption, seeking for slowness and a break from the cult of speed. (Honoré 2005, 3). Slow movements appeared, linked with balanced lifestyles and mindfulness.


Digital detox and tourism

Those tendencies don’t escape the tourism sector. If the technologies are a revolution in this sector, there is an ambiguity in their relationship: on one side, smartphones became essential tools (they bring a more independent form of tourism where it is possible to access to last minute booking and to find your path without being part of a group or being with a guide), and on another one, smartphones can distract, influence to real life experiences. Even if the person is located in one of the most beautiful places in the world, her habits to look at emails, sharing experiences on social medias, and even video-call in direct live people who stayed back home, interrupt the quality of the experience. An interesting fact is that people are acting this way without being conscious of it. (Lew. J., 2018). Some of them even wonder how it was possible in the past to travel without smartphones.


Different forms of disconnections related to the 'slow tourism' trend

A form of tourism developed called ‘slow travel’ (Dickinson et al. 2011). This tendency was born at the same time as when people became conscious about climat change (Dickinson et al. 2011). This tourism brings physical and technological decelerations (Kharpal 2016), even a digital detox and a voluntary simplification (Cherrier 2009) of the movements and habits of consumption.

The benefits related to a disconnection are: to be brought back basics, being physically, geographically and socially present with the surroundings. (Syvertsen & Enli, 2019). It also brings an open mind, trying new activities, allowing a better quality of sleep, or even speaking another language. It has been found that digital detox enthusiasts generally spend their holiday time in spiritual or regenerative retreats including activities focused on maintaining silence such as yoga and life reflexion through meditating.

Those alternative ways are inspired by Zen practices or monks remote lifestyles where the use of IPhones or other technologies is discouraged. All of this bring hopes to reconnect with something else than the wifi and have a rest from hectic lifestyles. (Buckley 2015, Graham 2013; Kwong 2018). In extreme situations, some people even choose to experience silent spiritual retreat such as « Vipassana » (10 silent days and meditative retreat), gap years, backpacking all around the world, or even pilgrimages including several weeks or even months of hiking days (such as the famous “Camino de Compostelle”). Those long periods are fare away from the daily lifestyle with a purpose to detach from work, family and comfort going into sacred places in a quest of personal, social or spiritual wellbeing. A situation promising respite from accelerated worlds.(Bradley 2009)


Digital detox and emotional process. From digital detox to digital moderation.

Even if those choices seems appealing, they doesn’t’ come without any emotional hurdle. A study published the 1rst August 2019 in the famous Journal of Travel Research’, studied the impact of digital free tourism on the traveller’ experiences and emotional dynamics. 24 volunteers from 7 different countries participated. The majority of them were Millenials (born between 1981 and 2000). They answered to semi-conducted interviews before and after their digital free travel experience. 15 of them also maintained an everyday emotional dairy during the experience. The results highlighted emotional challenges related of the transitory stages between disconnection and reconnection between two worlds; the ordinary and the extraordinary (referring to travel). It has been proved that a sudden disconnection from the technologies can bring negative emotions such as anxiety,(O’Regan 2008) and tensions (Pearce and Gretzel 2012). (Cai. W., McKenna. B., Waizenegger. L. (2019)). Also, anxiety, frustration, insecurity and isolation can occur at the beginning of the journey referring to a weaning period. It is possible to understand this situation, as travellers are tempting in modifying their habits and reflexes. Following an adaptation phase, where they finally accept the situation, the majority of the participants felt some liberation, freedom, appreciation of social reengagement. However, the resynchronisation with the real world was overwhelming. In their research, Cai. W. et al. (2019, Aout) even noted that two of the participants abandoned the experiment as their emotional state was unbearable. They didn’t manage to adapt to ‘ancestral ways’ of travelling where they had to use paper maps, talk to strangers, read informative boards seeking for bus timetables. Those extreme cases prove a dependence with the technologies. It is important to be aware that to reach a successful digital detox, several factors do exist. It has been proved that it is easier for someone to disconnect when she goes into a rural area, if she has one or several travel companionship, if she has low interactions with work. Also, the way she daily engages with new technologies, her mind-set and motives are important. Indeed, the motives need to be clear and well defined. (Cai. W. et al., 2019, Aout)

Devèze. E. (2020) says that digitalisation needs to be a tool and not a purpose. It is important to do not forget the value of the technologies, as they can be useful when they are managed in a reasonable way. For instance, smartphones and social media help people in communicating, and socialising, which bring joy.

Going into a digital detox is therapeutic, however it is a temporary action; it is difficult to maintain its benefits. Most of the people simply go back to their old habits transiting to their daily routine.(Ellis. D., Davidson. B. 2019) That way, Dr. Greenfield recall that digital detox doesn’t do anything by itself except awakening people about the possibilities of life without the effects related to this ‘drug’. He says that if this practise is regular, she can change the neurological process however, she has to be practised for more than few hours per day or a day. He expresses the scale of months to see real changes. (Bassett. A. 2020, Mars) Learning to use those tools in a smart and reasonable way is one of the keys for living in a healthier way. It is why the idea of going to a digital detox needs to be followed by a digital moderation.


Digital detox vacation an increasing trend appealing the Millenials

Digital detox holidays appeared beginning 2010, becoming the premises of the well-being market. They are linked to spirituality, yoga, mindfulness and digital detox.(Smith & Puczko, 2015). Since then, the concept increase. Terms such as « off-the-grid trips » and « unplugged travel » appeared in activities related to the tourism industry. (Lew. J., 2008). In 2012, The World Travel Global Trends Report even announces that digital detox became one of the main trends in the travel saddle.(Euromonitor, 2012). In 2018, Li, Pearce, et Low., added to this statement the notion of ‘digital-free tourism’ to describe a tourism turned toward activities practiced in areas including limited or even that doesn’t have any digital access at all. (Cai. W., McKenna. B., Waizenegger. L., 2019).

Historically, this type of holidays was offered to wealthy consumers whishing to escape and relax. Since 2016 and in 2017, it evolved from a niche market to the mass market, appealing people with modest incomes. The Millenials’ generation are aware of the values and concept of ‘disconnect to reconnect’ being attracted to it. (Floros. C. & al. 2019) This practice is linked to the need for learning new competences and skills. A trend going further than just the primal reasons of going in holidays. (Lovell Pearce. P. & Jing. L. 2018). The Schema 1 attests this tendency. It represents the increase between 2009 -2017 of the digital free-tourism market (DFT) in a parallel with the social context, needs and expectations from the consumers in terms of disconnection. 2009 DFT was a niche market. After knowing an increase in 2015, where businesses specialised themselves into DFT, from 2016, it expended toward a holistic approach related to practices more or less diversified regarding specific market needs for quality time, personal growth, human touch, etc.


Schéma 1 : (Source : Cai. W., McKenna. B., Waizenegger. L. (2019) )


Products and services in the digital detox market

The demand and new needs bring on the market: coach, books, podcats, well-being programs, camps, retreat helping the one in search for assistance, guiding the digital detox. (Roy. J. 2029, Sept) Businesses organised and positioned themselves offering places, events and holidays without screens. This type of holiday suggest to leave the phone at home (or at least in the suitcase) the time to recharge. Businesses, foundations and organisations even diversified or specialised themselves toward an offer « Off the Grid » such as « A-Gap Life », a non-profit foundation, the organisation « Digital Detox », the social enterprise « Destination Dreaming » or the beverage businesses « Innocent » and « Time to log-off ».

Indeed ‘Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice’ and ‘Innocent’ took the opportunity to diversify a complementary offer aligned with their value. That way, « A-Gap Life » (http://agap.life), created by Sexton. M. CEO of ‘Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice’, offers spiritual retreats guiding people to step back from digital distractions toward more intentioned lifestyles. Those programs  are specially designed for the one wsihing to reconnect with nature, themselves and others. They give away tip and tricks limiting the digital impacts on personal lives and also ways to balance the use of technologies in their daily lives. On another hand, the English business ‘Innocent’, (https://www.innocentdrinks.co.uk), offers similar weekends, however they are less focused on the spiritual side but more on the well being itself. In 2014, Lucy and Vikki their founders created the ‘Unplugged weekend” including activities such as meditation, relaxation, “digital detox” workshops, ‘sounds healing’ and life courses.

Those two first strategies are diversifying businesses aligned with food products. However, regarding the fame of this trend, entrepreneurs specialised themselves on the digital detox only such as ‘Digital Detox’ (thedigitaldetox.org). This American business internationally well-known prone the « Disconnect to reconnect ». Their creators, Felix. L. and Branzon. F., wish to inspire, educate and empower individuals toward creating meaningful lives, online and offline. Their mission is to support people to be more present balancing their use of the digital in their daily lives. Their strength is that from 2012, they created certified programs for schools on the top of 3 days immersive experiences for adults with the « Camp Grounded Summer Camp».

Events  including adult camps could be appealing for outdoor accommodation. That way, « Camp no counselors » (https://www.campnocounselors.com) born in 2013 in the United States, replicate the summer camp spirit. They offer ephemeral weekends in collaboration with campsites all over US. Their purpose is to bring back the teenager spirit sleeping in each human. They offer three days were people can put aside their responsibilities and participate to ludic activities.

Regarding the accommodation industry, hotels and resorts, which before offered a paid access to the Wifi, nowadays offer themed packages and spaces inviting to disconnect. For example, the luxurious hotels“Lake Placid Lodge - New York”, a 5 stars hotel and « the Four Seasons Costa Rica » offer their guest to leave their phone at the reception (locked in a safe). « Lake Placid Lodge » designed 4 nights “Check In to Check Out” package and ‘The Four Season’ 24h ‘tech-detox’ programs called ‘disconnect to reconnect ‘including activities that do not request the use of technologies such as dance classes or boat excursions. (Lew. J., 2018).

Concerning the travel and receptive agencies, they suggest thematic and personalised escapes on demand or create a range of products only oriented toward digital detox. That way, agencies such as ‘Black Tomato’ (https://www.blacktomato.com) offer detox packages on the top of their classic offer. ‘Black Tomato’ is specialised in the luxurious holidays offering 7 days of detox including plane ticket, transfers, a de-tech guide and one session of 1h with a life-coach. This innovative concept assures the success of the detox by anticipating the post travel situation. (Davidson. J. 2012, Juin). Further down this concept, the Australian business « Off the Grid Travel » clearly chose the digital detox market. They offer preselected and categorised destinations regarding their level of connectivity, promising detox « to destinations unpluged ». The destinations are located in New-Zealand, and the Pacific island characterised by the fact they possess “white zones”. Those “white zone” or “technology dead zones” allow independant travellers to disconnect as there is no data signal available at all. (https://www.offthegridtravel.com.au).

In those cases, agencies use natural digital free areas to assure the success of the experience. In 2019, France included 1% of those rare zones. Boulin. J.L., 2020) Some destinations being aware of their uniqueness position themselves, such as VisitScotland, the luxurious Lizard island in the Queensland (Australia). This island is proud of having 24 private beaches with no data reception. Saint Vincent and The Grenadines (SVG) in the Caraibes and VisitScotland destinations offer guides including digital free products and services “Digital Detox In SVG’. In some cases, private islands such as ‘Palm Island’ include visual signs mentioning 'Shh, vacations at work’ on the palm trees. (Picture 1)

Digital detox products and services, opportunities for businesses and destinations in a situation of post-COVID

New technologies became a vital need. Related to a transitional context pushed by the pendemic COVID-19 and to climat change , opportunities appear toward this alternative type of tourism. Indeed the quarantine and isolation restrictions amplified the use of the digital in a radically decelerated world. Digital demonstrated its utility keeping work, education, social connections which were its first purposes. Screens became ways to escape in a physically immobilised world. However, the effects related to their use stay the same. Regarding Matthieu Amiech, (2020) in a context where the direct physical rapport are forbidden outside homes, everything is reunited for the use of new technologies to be reinforced. In an article in Le Monde from April 2020, it is even mentioned that in France, 62% of the smartphone users declare spending more time in front of their screens since the beginning of the quarantine.

People became more in need to reach calm, go back to nature, offline human connections and sensorial interactions. Anticipating the post-COVID situation, ‘staycation’ and local tourism, the question could be :

- Which opportunities of products and services could appear facing those behavioral changes?

- How to develop a more resilient form of tourism in a context where crisis will occur more often and people might have to be quarantined ?

- Isn’t this situation an opportunity for remote areas to position themselves as healthier destination and digital detox destinations?


The French version has been published and is available at "Revue ESPACES tourisme et loisirs 356 [Organiser les mobilités touristiques dans la destination // Déconnexion et détox numériques]" https://www.tourisme-espaces.com/doc/10509.revue-espaces-tourisme-loisirs-organiser-mobilites-touristiques-destination-deconnexion-detox-numeriques.html



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