Purpose: To understand the impact of mobile social media use on absorption within the customer experience, and overall engagement with the physical service context, a qualitative research study was undertaken. In particular, this study aims to understand the impact of mobile technology use on service engagement by tourists. Design/methodology/approach: In this study, two groups of tourists were sent to a zoo wildlife lodge for one night. Half the group were permitted to use social media during their stay while the other half were instructed to refrain from actively using their social media accounts for the duration of their visit. The following day, in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with each couple to explore how the use of social media or refraining from social media use impacted on their absorption within the service customer experience. Findings: The findings suggest that engagement with their physical surroundings and the overall customer experience was increased when refraining from social media; however, respondents marketed the tourism provider enthusiastically when using mobile social media during their stay, compared with the group that was not using social media during the stay. Research limitations/implications: Despite a relatively small sample, a series of recommendations for service researchers and service providers have been generated through this research. For example, the methodology used can provide new ideas for researchers seeking to explore service customer experiences and engagement with the physical context. Service providers can also use recommendations around device free days to provide more immersive service customer experiences. Originality/value: Research within marketing typically does not use quasi-experimental design or paired interviews, as used in this study. Furthermore, the understanding of the impact of mobile social media use on engagement with a physical service environment has received very little attention in the academic literature.