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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

Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

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Top environment official urges Canadians to back Ottawa’s ambitious plans to tackle plastic trash

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The second in command at the federal Environment Ministry challenged Canadians to continue to speak up about the problem of plastic pollution and push elected officials, scientists and businesses to do more.

Quebec MP Peter Schiefke, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, made the comments online at Vancouver’s annual zero waste conference on Friday.

He said most Canadians want solutions to curb the tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic garbage that ends up as litter each year on the country’s beaches, parks, lakes and in the stomachs of animals. 

“Making sure that message is heard with industry stakeholders, elected officials and make sure that they are constantly putting pressure on it … so we notice that this is something that Canadians want, the backing of Canadians to go and undertake these huge challenges,” he said.

Schiefke filled in for  Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson at the last minute after Wilkinson was called away to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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OC Transpo’s monthly bus pass one of the most expensive fares in Canada

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OTTAWA — OC Transpo’s monthly bus pass is one of the most expensive passes in Canada, and transit riders are facing another 2.5 per cent hike in transit fares on New Year’s Day.

Ahead of Wednesday’s Transit Commission meeting on the 2021 budget, CTV News Ottawa looked at the cost of a monthly adult bus pass at transit services across Canada. Ottawa ranks behind the TTC in Toronto, Mississauga’s “MiWay”, Brampton Transit and Vancouver “TransLink” Zone 2 access to the suburbs for most expensive transit fares in Canada.

The cost of an OC Transpo adult monthly bus pass is currently $119.50 a month.

The 2021 City of Ottawa budget includes a proposed 2.5 per cent hike in transit fares. If approved, an adult monthly transit pass will increase $3 to $122.50, while a youth pass will increase $2.25 to $94.50 a month.  The cost of an adult single-ride cash fare would rise a nickel to $3.65.

The TTC is the most expensive transit service in Canada, charging $156 a month for an adult fare. MiWay charges $135 a month, and the cost of an adult monthly pass with Brampton Transit is $128.

Metro Vancouver’s transportation network “TransLink” has three fare zones. The monthly bus pass cost for “Zone 1”, which covers Vancouver, is $97 for adults. The “Zone 2” fare, which covers Vancouver and the suburbs of Richmond and Burnaby, is $131 a month.

Edmonton Transit Service, which includes a Light Rail System with 18 stations on two different lines, charges $97 a month for an adult monthly bus pass.

An adult monthly bus pass in Calgary costs $109 a month.

The survey by CTV News Ottawa of transit fares across Canada shows Gatineau has higher transit fares than Montreal and Quebec City. The STO charges $99 a month.

A monthly adult bus pass costs $88.50 in Montreal and $89.50 in Quebec City.

The cheapest adult monthly bus fare is in Charlottetown, at $58.50 a month. A monthly bus pass in Whitehorse costs $62 a month.

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