Budd bags Aussie phone-free plan

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Queenstown’s tourism boss is dubbing an Australian tourist destination’s campaign to restrict visitors’ dependence on smartphones as “a bit naff”.

In a world first, Sunshine Coast’s tourism industry has a ‘Smarter Smartphone’ code of conduct and has created phone-free ‘unplugged zones’.

Tourism operators are said to be fed up with visitors’ preoccupation with their smartphones and are advising they instead “make the most of the moment”.

The campaign, launched late last month in the popular tourist region north of Brisbane, has been endorsed by major attractions like UnderWater World and Aussie World.

The seven-point code is plastered on coasters and hotel bedroom tables and in taxis.

It includes tips for visitors like ‘take a phone-free day’, ‘elbows and phones off the table’ and ‘talk now, text later’. 

Sunshine Coast Destination boss Simon Ambrose is even encouraging visitors to embrace the code of conduct after returning home.

Ambrose tells the Brisbane Times: “Not only does the region have so much to offer for those looking to relax, recharge and reconnect with loved ones, visitors now have the opportunity to leave feeling naturally refreshed and armed with an idea that can better their lives.”

As Sunshine Coast launched its campaign, New Zealand’s Tourism Industry Association applauded a Telecom decision to extend free WiFi to help visitors get more internet-connected.

Free WiFi enhances visitors’ experiences and promotes NZ through them blogging and bragging about their travels, TIA boss Martin Snedden said.

Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd says the Sunshine Coast initiative “almost seems a bit naff to me, to be honest”.

Trying to restrict smartphone use – unless visitors are engaged in an adventure activity – is almost like denying a part of modern lifestyles, he says.

“You can’t turn the clock back, I don’t think.

“A lot of people are using smartphones for research and booking their next activity and that kind of stuff – they’re just a new medium of information and being connected,” he adds.

Budd doesn’t think influencing visitor behaviour is a tourism destination’s role: “Our view is to make people feel welcome and accommodate their behaviours and lifestyles within reason. Smartphones are just an integral part of that these days.” 

Local Ziptrek Ecotours director Trent Yeo says he’s ambivalent about the Sunshine Coast campaign.

On one hand, he thinks smartphone-free locations have merit for visitors: “I’ve just come back from three weeks in Bhutan [the Himalayas]. It’s the longest I’ve been disconnected and was very refreshing.”

On the other, Yeo believes Queenstown should be encouraging visitors to mark spots using a hashtag.

Accommodation should also provide free internet, he says.

“People want to experience digitally and it’s not just the tourist on the ground – people want to know what other people are experiencing.”