Detox and vacations: when it comes to wellbeing, designing our experiences is key

They call it the Stockholm Syndrome of lockdown. The most refined speak of “hermit’s paradox.” We have been closed up in our homes for two months or more, complaining and suffering. But as soon as we have a chance to get back even a smidgeon of our previous lives, we hesitate, coming up with all kinds of reasons to close the door of our refuge once again. Not everyone does this, of course, perhaps only a few. But they can suffice to make us ask if the abundance outside truly responds to our needs, especially those that are left unspoken, and are thus the strongest of all.

One this is certain: time off, relaxation, will be more closely programmed and specified than in the past. If free time becomes an accordion played by the emergency, it is logical to think that the gaps that open up have to be truly meaningful and satisfying, whether it is a visit to a museum (after the orgy of live streaming) or a weekend at a spa, where in any case more masks and temperature scans await us, though we may be lucky enough to avoid the plexiglass dividers. “The key word, from now on, will be care,” says Claudio Visentin, professor of Cultural History of Tourism at the University of Lugano. “Apart from mass tourism, which will be hampered by the emergency, the most aware travelers, and those who want to take a break from everyday life, will feel the need to program their experiences, following a thread. Alongside the natural need to spend time outdoors after months of enclosure, there will be more weekend trips for art or oriental disciplines, rural vacations with yoga, meditation courses, etc.”

Barbara Marcotulli, a service designer and tourism expert, observes: “In these months we have been subjected to time as a consequence: long lines for shopping, delays in deliveries, the wait for the delivery guys to arrive with dinner. We have discovered that we have never really been able to govern time, and we have not respected it. To say I don’t have time, today, means ‘it is not a priority.’ This is encouraging, and it is also the key to have the lives we want, pandemic notwithstanding. Realizing these things is liberating, as we are reminded that the management of time is a choice, though in this governed time there are consequences and limits, along with lots of freedom. If time is once again a choice, then we can start to make small decisions that improve our experience of time; this can help those who design experiences to keep time at the center, because that is its rightful place.”

In this new situation, the digital becomes a mask with two faces: the routine from which to escape, after work in recent months has shifted into video calls, but also the ally that keeps us well. The lesson arrives from northern Europe, where for two years now the Herman K design hotel in Copenhagen, with very defined industrial interiors that narrate its past as a power station, has replaced the traditional check-in with a smartphone app, to head straight for your room without touching anything or anyone. The new hospitality design reaches all the way to southern Italy, where the historic Patria Palace in Lecce, facing the Baroque fable of Santa Croce, has replaced the breakfast buffet with an à la carte tray that still makes guests exclaim with wonder.

Digital as the means, analog as the end"

In the Rocco Forte hotels, using a cell phone and a QR code you can order food at table or have your meals brought directly to the room, while the menu and documents are dematerialized. There are more facilities where the extras are paid with a click, so you can sail out the door with a friendly wave. Digital as the means, analog as the end, in short. Turnkey services are destined to grow, in which a structure or a professional has made choices for you, based on the model of Airbnb experiences. A “care” that in the case of the Thinking Traveler means the selection of 220 villas of the Mediterranean to rent, entering a circuit limited to just 2% of the residences that apply as candidates.

Speaking of villas and mansions, how will design propose that we live in our rediscovered space, once we’ve gotten past the filters, barriers and temperature checks? Gian Paolo Venier, an architect and designer specialized in hotellerie, makes a forecast and invites us to examine his project in progress for a resort in Crete, where every detail “speaks” of the island in a sort of mimetic approach that could be a signal of the near future. “From the earthenware pots at the walls, made in the island tradition of pedal-operated wheels, to encourage guests to visit the master potters in the area, to the floors made with forms carved in Greek white marble, suggesting the typical taste for decoration of the pavements of squares of the Greek islands, by way of the lamps that are made with fishing traps, everything establishes a connection with the territory and its traditions. Including the parapet of the staircase in wrought iron made with curls, suggesting the tendrils of grapevines.”

We will return to traveling not so much for the digital facilities that will try to make us feel safer, but due to the desire to pick up the thread of time, to bring it back to where it was prior to the orgy of anxiety and smart working. And time will inevitably demand that we come to grips with reality: “While with webinars and streamed meetings we were in New York one day and Cantù the next, now we will try to construct increasingly real experiences, obviously where that is possible,” Visentin says. Maybe the term “exclusive” will change its meaning, to some extent: from the world of luxury, it will shift into a sense of choice, of proportion and self-expression, even when the obligatory destination is just a few kilometers from home. “After all, in tourism the issue of what we are going to do has replaced – for some time now – the question of where, changing the focus from the big capitals to the small circuits of experiences, also on a local level,” says Mauro Filippi of Push, a service design agency based in Palermo that is monitoring the way we are returning to travel. “In this sense, here in Sicily people are starting to work to take advantage of the opportunities offered by rural towns, for example: the objective is for them to be perceived not as a fallback, but as a new resource for those who cannot or prefer not to travel to more distant places.”

Since 2015 the growth of tourism in rural centers of crafts production has been the mission of Eleonora Odorizzi and Andrea Miserocchi, inventors of Italian Stories, the portal that lets you travel (and learn) in the Italy of artisans, including leatherworkers, metalworkers, makers of fine paper, potters. “One aspect that is often underestimated,” they explain, “is the importance of these companies as part of the tourism ecosystem, not just in the major cities, but also and above all as an attraction to bring people to smaller towns.” A chance that should be taken, if in the future proximity becomes a key factor in our summers and our vacations. Our very own local detox.


Cover photo: ‘Vision’ by Alessandro Vullopart of the charity activity 100 Fotografi per Bergamo to support the reanimation and intensive therapy unit of the Papa Giovanni XXII Hospital in Bergamo.