Smartphone on a blue background

Is a phone-free travel destination a stroke of marketing genius?

A tourist island in Finland has bucked the trend and gone completely phone-free.

As a traveller, you’ll probably fall into one of two camps: a) That sounds like bliss, sign me up or b) But how will I capture my holiday and flaunt it on social media? As a marketer, however, there are wider considerations.

Firstly, there’s the impact such a move can have on destination marketing. Is it seen as a gimmick or something that can really be upheld for a digital detox retreat? Secondly, what are the implications for earned media if visitors aren’t snapping away on their iPhones and posting to social platforms in real time?

Social media icons on a smartphone

Do visitors really want a digital detox?

Visitors to Ulko-Tammio in Finland’s Eastern Gulf National Park are being encouraged by the tourist board to put their phones away to truly experience the island. While the move is voluntary, it’s being used as part of the destination marketing as a unique selling point.

Travel is an expensive undertaking and consumers are always looking for added value. One of the perceived returns on their investment is the ‘likes’ they’ll get on social media. This is particularly important for millennials, with research showing that how Instagrammable a destination is influences 40 per cent of this demographic in selecting a holiday location.

Take away the posting to social media element of a trip and it may become less appealing. As with all areas of marketing, it’s important to take your target audience into consideration. Older generations and those who’ve spent entire holidays with teenagers seemingly glued to their phones are likely to consider the idea of a digital detox in a different way to active Instagram and TikTok users.

Online word of mouth

The power of earned media is particularly important in the travel industry. The ease with which users can share visual content now makes it an intrinsic part of marketing strategy for holiday companies, airlines and accommodation providers. Many social media users researching a trip turn to user-generated content as it’s seen to be without bias and not too salesy.

With Instagram influencing 46 per cent of Gen Z on where they go on holiday and 50 per cent turning to Facebook, can the selling points of a digital detox outweigh the benefits of earned media? The marketers behind Ulko-Tammio must have decided that the headline-grabbing nature of a phone-free island in the social media age was enough of a pay-off.

Researching travel destinations on social media gives would-be customers the added reassurance it’ll be worth it before they book. They can see the type of experiences they’ll enjoy and even recreate iconic shots themselves.

Ulko-Tammio’s social media presence

Just because there’s a suggested phone ban for visitors to the Finnish island, doesn’t mean everyone’s following it. At the time of writing, there are some 1,138 posts tagged #ulkotammio on Instagram. This is indeed a very small number for such a beautiful destination, but perhaps there’s something about the thrill of breaking the rules and posting anyway.

The Iceland example

When it comes to destination marketing through social media it’s hard to think of a bigger success than Iceland. Most people didn’t know anyone who’d been to Iceland 20 years ago, but the majority of our social media feeds have featured friends and family standing in front of icebergs at Jokulsarlon or soaking in the famed Blue Lagoon.

Social media has taken destinations that have previously seemed out of reach and propelled them into the mainstream. Iceland’s 14,929,366 hashtagged posts on Instagram alone highlight just how shareable it is on social platforms. Whether the tourism department behind Ulko-Tammio will change tactics in the future and seek a share of this type of promotion remains to be seen…