Wyndham encouraging guests to put down the phones

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The pool deck of the Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek near Walt Disney World Resort is a phone-free zone.
The pool deck of the Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek near Walt Disney World Resort is a phone-free zone.
Holly V. Kapherr
Holly V. Kapherr

We are undeniably at a time when our smartphones are truly extensions of our lives. Restaurants develop photogenic dishes for ideal Instagramming. Hotels, airports and attractions install picture-perfect environments specifically for selfies. Everywhere you look when traveling, there's a hashtag to use or incentive to "like us!" or check in on Facebook.  A study done in August found that the average adult spends 24 hours per week, that's one full day, on their smartphone.

But two of Wyndham's Florida properties -- the Wyndham Grand Bonnet Creek at Walt Disney World Resort and the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach -- are going against the grain. The program is part of a five-hotel pilot by the brand. The other Wyndham hotels participating are in Chicago; Charleston, S.C.; and Galveston, Texas. The program is an extension of the brand's "Reconnected Family Experience" program that rolled out in February.

"Before the pull of technology, we would never dream of wasting time on our phones instead of jumping straight into the pool and soaking up every minute of our vacation," Lisa Checchio, chief marketing officer for Wyndham, said in a statement.

The phone-free program, which launched in October, encourages guests to put away their cell phone and interact with others in their family or group or interact more fully with the staff. At the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, guests find brochures around the pool deck and restaurant, Ocean Hai, with information on how to participate in the program. The brochure reads:

"These special spaces throughout Wyndham Grand hotels help us unplug by the pool, where swimming means more than swiping, and in our restaurants, where family dinner comes before filters." Plus, you'll get rewarded by putting family time first."

Here's how it works: Guests place their smartphones in a special pouch called Yondr, which seals magnetically and which can only be opened by tapping it on a base station.

Ivan Salazar, director of outlets at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, told me, "We want our guests to find a healthy balance between using their phones and spending time together." I asked him about the obsession in tourism with sharing experiences at a property on social media. He responded, "Of course we love when guests share their experience, but while they're here, we encourage them to step back and enjoy being in the moment.

According to Salazar, the challenge of not reaching for their phones in a quiet moment at the table or while the kids are swimming is part of the draw for guests. "We have heard from guests that they didn't realize how often they reach for their phone without even thinking about it, and what a distraction it is from what's going on around them." Salazar also told me that they encourage guests to post about their phone-free experience at the hotel once they return home.

The phone-free zones present a more family-friendly way to ask guests to put their phones away and improve the service and ambience of the pool and restaurant areas. Salazar said, "From the restaurant standpoint, this allows our servers to better get to know our guests, like where they're from and what they like to do. Then, our servers can offer suggestions of things to do in the area that speak to the guests' interests. It's an opportunity to personalize our service even further."

Correction: The phone-free program launched in October and is an extension of the Wyndham's "Reconnected Family Experience" program that rolled out in February. An earlier version of the article stated that "Reconnected Family Experience" launched in October as well.

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