Unplugging Can Be the Best Way to Connect

In a meetings industry—and world—increasingly focused on mobile devices and techie connectivity, really getting away from it all has become more challenging than ever.

The same tools and platforms that once seemed designed to free us from the office can serve us as a double-edged sword, providing planners and attendees with a 24/7 accessibility that makes it impossible to truly escape the office hustle and bustle for even an instant.

I recently explored the meetings landscape for a variety of ‘unplugged’ locales that make disconnecting a snap, leaving your attendees free to network, brainstorm or just play in a wireless way that groups are sure to savor. Here’s a look at some of the most appealing and inventive offerings for groups seeking to really disconnect.

Silence is Golden

While its cozy size—six guest rooms—limits a group visit to an intimate retreat, it’s hard to imagine a less-connected setting than Silent Stay in Vacaville, Calif. The escape is the brainchild of Bruce and Ruth Davis, who also operate a sister property in Assisi, Italy. Rolling across 25 acres and nestled atop a hill, the property eschews cell-phones, Internet connections and all media forms, and actually has a code of silence; a group conducting a buyout can set their own rules however.

Meals are prepared through a communal kitchen shared by all guests, and each day begins with a morning meditation, followed by a special meditative movement experience led by a longtime yoga expert. Guests are typically left free to enjoy the grounds following, which can include cycling, quiet strolls, or receiving a massage.

“Silent Stay Hermitage is a perfect place to ‘unplug,’ renew and much more,” says Bruce Davis. “It is a place to discover the awareness of our expansive heart, the seat of true joy.  Guests call the retreats deeply restorative and an inspiration for a truly fulfilling spiritual life.”

Hilton Unhooks

Mark Komine, senior vice president, head of sales—the Americas, Hilton Worldwide, says he and his company are huge proponents of unplugged gatherings, and walk the walk by even holding such events in-house.

“I think we are on the cusp of unplugged meetings taking off,” Komine remarks. “I have no doubt that people will eventually come around to this format. At some point they will begin to realize you can only do so much with technology.”

While he concedes technology is a strong communication-enabler able to enhance meetings and events, Komine emphasizes there is no substitute for face-to-face connection.

“For organizations and planners that are looking to get higher levels of engagement, an unplugged meeting is the perfect solution,” he says.

Komine recently led a “listen and learn circle” at The Boulders, a Waldorf-Astoria Resort, in Carefee, Ariz., an outside function free of smartphones and laptops (pictured below).

“An unplugged meeting doesn’t have to be outside, but this gave us the ability to create an environment people are much more comfortable in,” he says. “When you meet face to face, like we did at The Boulders, it creates a sense of authenticity and realism and that can’t come out of a meeting crowded with technology.”

Tech Detox in Vail

With unplugging in mind, The Sebastian Vail is now offering a Break Out from Burn Out package that includes a tech ‘detox’ box—where attendees can set aside their phones and other gadgets and just enjoy the moment.

The package also includes relaxing elements such as a special sleep-inducing massage, yoga session, aromatherapy and sleep-friendly amenities. Other bonuses range from a welcome amenity to welcoming libations.

The elegant property offers no end of tech-free experiences too, with Night Owl Outings that can include full-moon bike rides and whitewater rafting jaunts showcasing candlelit cuisine. And for groups wanting to get down to business, there’s also 8,500 square feet of snazzy event space.

Special Spaces and Places

Some locales and settings simply offer naturally superb places to disconnect, such as the following settings:

  • Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys (pictured below) is a 60-acre escape with 20,000 square feet of event space, plus plenty of ways to retreat from it all, including snorkeling jaunts aboard a spacious new catamaran followed by s’mores by a beachfront bonfire. Or explore the four restaurants, five swimming pools and Calm Waters Spa.

  • SoCal’s Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa presents some low-key ways to find ‘serenity now,’ including guided meditation exercises and Qi Jong breathing movements for groups of five or more, plus yoga and Bocce ball, that leave the laptops behind. A bit north, in the Santa Barbara region, El Capitan Canyon presents some of the best ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) on the continent, where attendees can get away from it all in comfort in luxurious yurts, tented lodges and other swanky shelters.
  • In New Hampshire, the Manor on Golden Pond is located in the central realms of the state, where proprietor Mary Ellen Shields says no cellphones work, making disconnecting a natural. The regally rustic resort presents a wide variety of lodging types, intimate spa, cooking school and serene variety of lakeside activities.
  • At the High Hampton Inn (pictured below) in Cashiers, N.C., there are no in-room televisions or telephones, and a great outdoors surrounding the property includes a golf course, extensive hiking trails, tennis courts and nearby whitewater rafting outings. For groups actually wanting to get a little work done, there is meeting space for about 150 with Wi-Fi there and in the lobby area.

  • National Parks of course can be superb places to retreat, and Northern California’s Yosemite is one of the most scenic of them all. Just outside the park entrance, the Tenaya Lodge does provide Wi-Fi when needed but also showcases all sorts of ways to leave the laptop behind, working with Yosemite Mountaineering School. Possibilities include 10.5-mile cross-country skiing overnights to the Glacier Point Ski Hut and evening adventures such as seasonal Night Prowls spotting nocturnal critters and a Starry Skies Over Yosemite Valley experience (pictured below) exploring the constellations above.

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