First there was vacation.
Then came the “digital detox” vacation — the no-cellphones, no-Internet-allowed response to increasingly inescapable and seemingly addictive technology.
Now comes the backlash (or at least the appearance of one). The first “Twitter experience hotel” (aka Sol Wave House) was introduced this summer in Majorca, Spain, where guests can ping requests to a “Twitter concierge” using hashtags like #fillmyfridge; flirt from poolside Bali beds by tweeting numbers printed atop the beds, like “How’s it going #balibed10?”; and sip cocktails while checking their smartphones for a live feed of virtual conversations bubbling up from every corner of the hotel.
Meliá Hotels International, which owns more than 350 properties, including Sol Wave House, is pioneering the concept amid the still rising popularity of smartphones and social networking. The Internet is in more pockets today than ever before. In July the International Data Corp., a research group, said the worldwide smartphone market experienced 52.3 percent year-over-year growth. (In the United States, 56 percent of adults own a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project surveys.)
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The number of people on social networking sites is also growing. About 1.3 billion people worldwide are now using social networks (that’s about 82 percent of the global Web population), up from about 1.2 billion last year, according to comScore.
Sol Wave House was refurbished two years ago, but the Twitter theme — the “share the love” signs at the front desk, the Twitter suites and concierge — is new.
“The social night-life scene is significant, so we already had a ripe environment that we were looking to augment,” said Tony Cortizas, vice president for global brand strategy of Meliá, which is based in Palma de Mallorca. The hotel itself is shaped somewhat like an amphitheater, with rooms and balconies that allow guests to peer down at public areas with pools, daybeds, wave machines and DJs. “The clientele coming in are younger,” Cortizas said.
And according to the Pew Research Center, which has been conducting one of the more thorough studies of Twitter, Internet users ages 18 to 29 in the United States are the most likely to use the network, making a Twitter theme hotel a distinct way to speak with that demographic.
Cortizas said he marvels at how young people are living today. “It’s so completely normal for someone to be looking down on the street and walking into people because they’re looking at their device,” he said. “For the generations that are literally growing up that way, it’s really normal.” Sol Wave House is striving to “bring what is normal and every day for these guys and give them a sandbox to play in.”
That sandbox includes a Twitter concierge that guests can instruct via tweet to “Get the Cava on ice” followed by “1 bottle, 4 glasses to the solarium,” as one visitor did last month. There are images of mustaches on mirrors in the rooms, encouraging guests to tweet goofy selfies. And on Friday afternoons at the height of the season, the concierge uses a pool party hashtag (#twitterpoolparty) to summon sun worshippers.
To create a measure of privacy, all virtual interactions take place within an internal community available only to guests through an app and the hotel’s free Wi-Fi.
“In our business,” Cortizas said, “rooms are rooms and suites are suites, but in the end it’s always about what you are doing to deliver an experience to a customer. We were looking to try and do something that would differentiate us, and we were trying to do something that would be kind of fun.”
The hotel bills itself as the first to create such an immersive Twitter getaway, putting it among a handful of properties that are embracing glued-to-your-smartphone experiences. At the moment, it’s still far more common for travel professionals to peddle digital detox vacations.
Among the first to do so was the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Tourism Authority, which created a digital detox campaign last year to lure travelers afflicted by an “addiction to gadgets.” The tactic has mushroomed, with hotels as varied as the Westin Dublin in Ireland and the Lake Placid Lodge in New York offering digital detox packages. Some hotels, like the Quincy in Washington, offer perks like bookstore gift cards for those who lock their phones in a safe during their stay.
As if one needed further evidence of the trend, last month “digital detox” was added to the Oxford Dictionary Online.
But resistance may be futile. Even spots that have been digital black holes — subways, safaris, airplanes — are adopting Wi-Fi.
“There’s two sides to this story, and we’re definitely playing one side of it,” Cortizas said. “But the environment is such and the destination and the energy of the destination is such that it’s appropriate.”