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Digital detox: Resorts offer perks for handing over phones

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Dee-Ann Durbin, The Associated Press


Published Friday, December 21, 2018 1:38AM EST

Can you take a vacation from your cellphone? A growing number of hotels will help you find out.

Some resorts are offering perks, like snorkeling tours and s’mores, to guests who manage to give up their phones for a few hours. Some have phone-free hours at their pools; others are banning distracting devices from public places altogether.

Hotels that limit cellphone use risk losing valuable exposure on Instagram or Facebook. But they say the policies reflect their mission of promoting wellness and relaxation. And, of course, they hope that happily unplugged guests will return for future visits.

“Everyone wants to be able to disconnect. They just need a little courage,” said Lisa Checchio, Wyndham Hotels’ chief marketing officer.

People’s inability to disconnect is an increasingly serious issue. Half of smartphone users spend between three and seven hours per day on their mobile devices, according to a 2017 global survey by Counterpoint Research, a technology consulting firm. In a separate study by the non-profit Common Sense Media, 69 per cent of parents and 78 per cent of teens said they check their devices at least hourly.

Wyndham knew it had a problem when hotel managers requested more beach chairs to accommodate all the people who would sit in them and stare at their phones. It discovered that the average resort guest was bringing three devices and checking them once every 12 minutes — or roughly 80 times a day.

On Oct. 1, Wyndham Grand’s five U.S. resorts began offering prime spots by the pool, free snacks and the chance to win return visits when guests put their phone in a soft, locked pouch. The phones stay with the guests, but only hotel staff can unlock the pouches.

Wyndham says 250 people have used the pouches so far at resorts in Florida and Texas. The program will be found at more Wyndham hotels next year.

Wyndham Grand resorts also give families a 5 per cent discount on their stay if they put their phones in a timed lockbox. The hotel provides supplies for a pillow fort, s’mores, a bedtime book and an instant camera for adults and kids who don’t know what to do with all the newfound time on their hands.

That appeals to Matthew Cannata, who heads public relations for the New Britain, Connecticut, schools. He worries about the impact of technology on his two young children, and he tries to keep devices out of sight during family meals.

“Any chance I can get to put the phone away is great. Sometimes, people need to be forced to do things to start a thought process and then create a habit,” he said.

At the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit in Mexico, a so-called Detox Concierge will “cleanse” your suite of all electronic devices and replace them with games like Jenga and chess. Guests at its sister resort, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, trade in their phones for a bracelet that gives them free access to activities like snorkeling; they must do at least four activities to earn back their phones. A timer placed in the lobby shows how long each family has lasted without their devices.

Emily Evans likes the idea of rewarding people for putting their phones away. A senior at Eastern Kentucky University, she says she barely keeps her phone charged while on vacation, but her girlfriend is constantly checking her phone.

“I feel most millennials would choose discounts and saving money over having their phone out to Instagram and Snapchat pictures of their meals,” Evans said.

At Miraval, a Hyatt-owned resort in Arizona, the emphasis is less on family time than on mindfulness and tranquility. Miraval, which will soon open two more resorts in Texas and Massachusetts, bans phone use in most public areas.

Guests are encouraged to tuck their phones into soft cotton bags and leave them on small wooden beds in their rooms. Staff wears name tags with gentle reminders that guests should unplug and “be present.”

Some resorts encourage a total ban. Wilderness Resorts, an African safari operator, intentionally provides no Wi-Fi at many of its camps. Adrere Amellal, a 40-room hotel at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, lets guests have phones in their rooms, but there’s no electricity or Wi-Fi.

Not all vacationers want to be weaned from their devices. Phones double as cameras, music players, travel guides and e-readers. They also might be critical in an emergency.

David Bruns, a communications manager for AARP Florida, uses two phones. He tries not to check his work phone after hours, but he carries his personal phone everywhere.

“I don’t think I would like being made to put the thing down,” Bruns said. “It feels like that is more about me being told what to do by people I am paying to do something for me.”

Ayana Resort and Spa in Bali, Indonesia, understands that, so it tries to meet guests halfway. Its winding River Pool bans phones between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. But it invites guests to take photos and post away to social media before and after those times.

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LIFESTYLES

University of Windsor establishes first Canadian transportation cybersecurity centre

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The University of Windsor will be the site of Canada’s first organization dedicated to countering threats to the connected transportation marketplace.

The SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence will focus on developing the skills, innovations and policy to secure connected and autonomous vehicles.

Researchers will partner with industry, government and community stakeholders.

Co-founding and heading up the centre will be Dr. Mitra Mirhassani of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dr. Ikjot Saini of the School of Computer Science.

In the past year, the two University of Windsor professors were both recognized as being among Canada’s top talents in the automotive cybersecurity field.

“Hardware and software vulnerabilities could put personal information and vehicle safety in jeopardy,” said Mirhassani.

“Transportation systems are especially susceptible to attacks from malicious actors due to the complexity, implementation costs and lifecycles of equipment and platforms.”

The SHIELD centre is a continuation of the Windsor region’s focus on developing its cybersecurity ecosystem.

The province has already designated the area as the regional tech development centre for cybersecurity and border logistics.

The cybersecurity centre got a further boost this week with the announcement of a memorandum of understanding with the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association (APMA).

APMA and SHIELD will collaborate to develop market-based technologies to meet the needs of producers and consumers and build academic programs to address industry’s evolving requirements.

“We hope that this partnership will help to advance a cybersecurity culture shift in the industry in Canada,” said APMA president Flavio Volpe.

“There is much work to be done to protect our collective interest in advancing this country’s globally competitive automotive sector.”

The centre will also promote the sharing of knowledge among parties to advance standards and enhance policies in the field.

Part of the plan is to offer micro credentialing through the university’s Continuing Education programs.

“We plan to offer consultation and test services to small- and medium-sized Canadian companies that will help them stay up to date,” said Dr. Saini.

“Open-access publications and public webinars will widely share the latest information.”

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LIFESTYLES

Hamilton police charge ‘Hugs Over Masks’ protest organizers in two separate events

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TORONTO — Hamilton, Ont., police say they have charged two organizers of an anti-mask protest group for holding events that allegedly violated public health rules.

Police say the events were held in downtown Hamilton on Jan. 3 and Jan. 10.

The force alleges that 40 people attended first event and 60 attended the second.

Current provincial restrictions limit gatherings to a maximum of 10 people outdoors.

Police say they informed the “Hugs Over Masks” organizers that the planned Jan. 10 gathering would result in charges, but they went ahead with the event.

They say a 27-year-old man and 38-year-old woman are facing charges under the Reopening Ontario Act that carry a minimum fine of $10,000 if convicted.

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Ontario issues stay-at-home order to start Thursday as Ford declares state of emergency

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Premier Doug Ford is declaring another state of emergency, effective immediately, in response to surging COVID-19 infection rates.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Ford announced Ontario is issuing a stay-at-home order, effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

It requires people to stay home except for essential activities such as accessing health care or shopping for groceries.

The new measures also include restricting the hours of operation for non-essential retail stores such as hardware stores to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Addressing big box stores, which are allowed to remain open, Ford said an inspection blitz is coming to ensure they are following proper protocols.

“I’m going to come down on them like an 800-pound gorilla,” he said.

Schools in Hamilton, Toronto, York, Peel and Windsor-Essex will not return to in-person learning until Feb. 10.

Other public health regions, including Halton and Niagara, will find out when students can return to class by Jan. 20.

Schools will now require students in grades 1-3 to wear masks and masks will be required outside where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Child-care centres for non-school aged children will remain open.

The premier announced the restrictions shortly after the province released new projections that show the virus is on track to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system.

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