This island in Finland is asking tourists to ditch their phones

Tourism officials want tourists to voluntarily disconnect when visiting Ulko-Tammio, an uninhabited nature island tucked in the Eastern Gulf of Finland National Park

A guest harbour on the Finnish island of Ulko-Tammio

Administrators at most destinations yearn to have them go viral on TikTok, or dream of attracting droves of Netflix Inc. viewers, despite the risk of overwhelming communities. A small island off the southeastern coast of Finland is taking the opposite approach.

Tourism officials for Ulko-Tammio, one of several islands inside Eastern Gulf of Finland National Park, say they want it to be a “phone-free island” and are urging visitors to “switch off their smart devices and to stop and genuinely enjoy the islands” said Mats Selin, an expert with Visit Kotka-Hamina, in a release.

The sentiment is echoed by Parks & Wildlife Finland, which manages the island’s pristine environment and wildlife. “We encourage visitors to put their phones away voluntarily and to focus their senses on nature rather than on their phones,” said outdoor recreation and visitor manager Joel Heino, in a statement.

On the travel side, booking a digital-free vacation in a tropical locale is a growing trend that even corporate executives are resorting to, and digital detox retreat options have long existed for those choosing to pull their noses out of phones on trips.

But it’s not the norm for an industry that relies on influencers and breathtaking visuals on social media to attract visitors or convey a sense of place.

Ulko-Tammio is one of several islands inside the Eastern Gulf of Finland National Park. Picture by Annika Ruohonen

To wit: Some 63 per cent of millennials and younger travellers say they’ve used at least one social media platform to plan trips in the past 12 months, according to a survey of from Destination Analysts. Besides, does your vacation really happen if you don’t post about all the fun you’re having there?

Attempts to get consumers to ditch their phones have increased over the years, particularly in the entertainment business.

Electronic dance music artist Lane 8 is famous for his phone-free concerts, and it’s brought bigger crowds for his live shows. Dave Chappelle and Alicia Keys were among the earliest adopters to ban phones at performances through use of the Yondr pouch, dating back to 2015: pop your iPhone in a grey and lime-green pouch that seals as soon as you close it; you can carry it around, but you won’t be able to snap it open until you reach an unlocking station as you exit the event.

San Francisco-based Yondr’s locking phone cases are now used in select courthouses, theatres, restaurants and schools in the US that are looking to limit the use of devices.

In January 2023, Thermae Bath Spa, located in historic Bath, England, announced it was becoming a mobile-free zone and would partner with Yondr. The public thermal day spa noted in a release that phones were “a regular source of annoyance” to guests, as well as “a problem for our staff who have to recover dropped phones from the bottom of pools”.

Yondr’s last public data release cited an estimated one million customers using its pouches in March 2022; the company said it was unable to share more recent data with Bloomberg.

Questions as to whether the pouch’s effectiveness arose after it was used for the Broadway show Take Me out, and leaked footage and images of a naked Jesse Williams on stage nonetheless appeared on social media.

There will be no Yondr pouches on Finland’s Ulko-Tammio island. But amid growing proof that social media is addictive and can impair mental health, perhaps more travellers are ready to ditch their phones in the great outdoors. It’s nice to think that a nudge will suffice.

Digital cameras are a good alternative while on holidays. Picture by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

If not, you can use a digital camera to get great photos, though you won’t be able to post them while on the island. “There is no need to ban art,” said Annika Ruohonen, Visit Kotka-Hamina’s content creation manager, via email.

Ulko-Tammio can be reached by private boat year-round, weather permitting, and by boat taxi or small ship cruise during the summer months from Kotka, an hour and a half’s drive east from Helsinki. Boat taxis are also available from Hamina, which lies an additional 20 minutes east of Kotka.

You would then simply stay off your phone while experiencing Ulko-Tammio’s isolated scenic water views — with rugged cliffs and arctic bird species — from the observation tower.

Then you could tour the island’s historic fortress and caves, used in two battles with the Soviet Union during World War II, and rock carvings that date back to the 19th century.

Posting any shots or video of you standing just six miles (10 kilometres) from the Russian border would have to wait till you get back to your hotel.