No Signal? No Problem. States Push Tech-Free Escapes

In parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, broadband internet access and good cell phone reception are tough to come by. Robert Siegel talks with Dave Decker, executive Director of the Tri-State Tourism council, about his efforts to spin that potential nuisance into a positive, by pitching tech-free vacations.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Dave Decker has a problem. And as a creative promoter of tourism, he has decided that the solution to the problem is to turn it to his own advantage. Mr. Decker is executive director of the Tri-State Tourism Council, which covers rural parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, and where evidently cell phone service is pretty bad and the Internet can be slow. So Mr. Decker is pitching tech-free vacations.

He joins us now from Dubuque, Iowa on his cell phone. So I have to ask you first, can you hear me all right?

DAVE DECKER: I can hear you fine.

SIEGEL: In the city, the reception is adequate, you say.

DECKER: You bet.

SIEGEL: Now, make your sales pitch to us. Why do I want to go on a vacation where I can't get any cell phone reception or Internet access?

DECKER: When I was at Christmas this last year - let me tell you this quick story - I look around at the kids between six and 16 years old, if they're not opening a gift they're on an electronic gadget. That was on my wife's side of the family. The following weekend on my side of the family, I confiscate all cell phones because I don't want to see everybody being engaged with their electronic instead of watching the others open gifts.

So, that's an example. Are you tired of seeing the kids attached to an electronic device all the time? How about a getaway with the spouse? If they're always using that phone and that gadget while they're home, isn't a getaway to get away from all of it?

SIEGEL: So you're saying if we take a vacation to the tri-state area - this particular tri-state area being Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois - we don't have to confiscate these wireless devices. They just won't work.

DECKER: You know, 95 percent of the places they will work. What happens is as you get in the outlying areas - we are the Driftless Region, which means the glaciers did hit our area, so we've got very high peaks and low valleys. So a lot of the places you'll be doing fine like, say, in the Chicagoland area, in the St. Louis area with Verizon or Sprint, for example. But you get out here in these low-lying areas you won't have cell phone reception.

SIEGEL: So are the bed and breakfasts there actually advertising tech-free vacations?

DECKER: We are getting some that are advertising the unplugged getaway, and some of them are not having television. Irish Hollow in the Galena, Illinois, promotes no TV. When you come out there - this is a very, very nice place. We're not talking that they can't afford it. But when you get out there, they want you to get away from it all. And they don't have televisions in the room. They will ask if you would like to leave your cell phones and your iPads at the desk.

They want you to read, hike, bike, walk, bird watching - things like this that you typically don't do the other five days a week when you're, you know, living the city life, if you will. So...

SIEGEL: And have you come up with a slogan that at least some of the places can join in with here, in the making the best of a bad thing?

DECKER: Well, I think unplugged has kind of become, you know, unplug and get away from it. And, to me, that's the slogan is we want to get away from it all. I just get frustrated with this situation today where people just can't leave it. I mean, you know, reward them. Hey, if I was a bed and breakfast owner, if you make 24 hours, I'll give you a free bottle of wine. You know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DECKER: ...can you do it? You know, here's a challenge. The gauntlet has been laid.

SIEGEL: Any reactions from visitors so far?

DECKER: You know, it's been really good for the Irish Hollow. I know that they have had no resistance to the no televisions in the room. And they are really pleased with the fact that people are wanting to come and feel how it would have been 100 years ago.

Maybe I'm old and maybe it's just me, maybe the other generations don't see it that way. But I do think there's a wonderful time to decompress and just, you know, get away from things.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Decker, thanks a lot for talking with us about it.

DECKER: You bet.

SIEGEL: That's Dave Decker, who is executive director of the Tri-State Tourism Council, which covers parts of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. He spoke to was from Dubuque.

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