Digital Nomadism: How To Tap Into The New Frontier Of Travel
A Different Person: What Is A Digital Nomad?
By Simone Puorto, Founder | CEO | Futurist
"You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O'Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. [...] You wake up at Air Harbor International. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?" This is the question posed by Tyler Durden, star of the movie/book Fight Club, and this is the question that the so-called "digital nomads" ask themselves every day.
More prosaically, a digital nomad is simply a remote worker. A "smart" workers, we would say, in the post-COVID era, even if the term puzzles me, as it originates from the assumption that, until now, we all have been "dumb" workers. Anyhow: her office has no borders, and she can decide to work from anywhere in the world, using coworking spaces, coffee shops, hotels, or Airbnbs. Obviously, the type of employment must be one that does not require a physical presence in the workplace: you will not find many digital nomads among factory workers, of course, but copywriters, SEO experts, startuppers, but also entrepreneurs and CEOs of online companies. If your job only needs an internet connection and a laptop, then you could become a digital nomad, too.
THE TRUTH ABOUT NOMADISM
And what the coronavirus has taught us is that there are many more jobs that can be done remotely than we initially imagined. Moreover, it is not uncommon among us consultants to find hybrid figures: before the pandemic, I spent about 100 nights a year away from home, and my office moved hundreds of kilometers every day. To a certain extent, I am (or was) a nomad too. The life of digital nomads has been mythologized, mainly by social networks. The stereotypical idea we have of the nomad is that of a successful young and tanned entrepreneur who runs his company from crystal clear beaches between one surfing session and another, while the reality is undoubtedly less poetic.
Among the main problems a DN faces there is certainly that of the internet connection's instability, especially if you decide to work from particularly remote places. Therefore, it is no coincidence that often most of the work is done from a Starbucks or coworking spaces (which, paradoxically, recreate the services of a real, old school office) rather than by a pool. The time zone is another problem that afflicts nomads: having the majority of customers in Europe and working from Australia, for example, creates a situation that is difficult to solve if not by reviewing one's working hours. Although I am not a nomad, I work with properties between Asia and North America, which leads to rejecting the canonical 9 to 5 lifestyle. For a nomad, the problem is certainly amplified. Despite these difficulties, the trend is rapidly increasing: according to MBO Partners, there are almost five million nomads globally and 17 million people who aspire to become one.
NOMADISM AND COVID-19
According to most vocabularies, nomadism is the "tendency to travel, to move constantly, to change residence often." However, what 2020 taught us is that traveling is no longer as simple as it once was, and this had an impact on the whole movement, which has led some destinations to come up with countermeasures. Indonesia has been a popular digital nomad destination for years, and Bali is developing targeted strategies to revive the post-COVID economy, referring to this digital tribe, while Estonia issues a VISA that allows DN to work remotely for a year. Bermuda follows the same approach. Under the slogan "Work from Paradise," the Barbados islands have launched the "Barbados Welcome Stamp," which allows you to work, always for one year (renewable), and not to pay income taxes. But how many potential nomads are there? According to a study by La Voce, as many as 24% of jobs could be done remotely. Twitter has stated that it will let its employees work from home forever if they wish, while Google and Facebook allow their employees to smart-work until, respectively, June and July 2021. Coronavirus has transformed smart working from a marginal movement (and, often, ostracized by companies) to a "new normality," and many entrepreneurs are realizing, to their surprise, that productivity has not decreased with remote work, quite the contrary. According to a survey carried out by Astra, "there are more and more companies that, following the epidemic, have organized remote work for all the tasks for which this is possible. [...] Everything seems to happen, according to those who respond to the survey, without serious negative repercussions on productivity: only 5 percent of respondents argue that remote work has led to a lowering of productivity per worker." If the post-COVID trend continues, potentially ¼ of the jobs existing today would become "smart" and we would all turn into digital nomads (even if some more nomadic than others, as many of us will simply continue to work from home).
And here comes a further change that remote work could trigger: digital nomads could be joined by permanent residents who, however, decide to move outside the big cities to countries with a better quality of living and a lower cost of life. Not really "nomads," then, but workers who decide to keep the big cities' salaries, living in places with infinitesimally lower costs.
FROM HOSPITALITY TO WORKSPITALITY
As we have seen, several destinations have understood the economic potential of digital nomads and have begun providing work visas and / or major tax breaks. Even hotels themselves can take advantage of the trend by offering services dedicated to this interesting slice of the market. The citizenM group, for example, has launched "corporate subscriptions", which include, among other things:
- Workspace in any hotel of the group;
- Three nights a month - with no blackout dates - in all citizenM hotels around the world;
- Three hours of meeting room use per month;
- A welcome drink and breakfast included with each overnight stay;
- Super-fast Wi-Fi.
There is a neologism for this phenomenon: "workspitality," a witty pun between the terms "work" and "hospitality." Several chains are exploiting it, such as Accor with its Wojo. Even independent hotels can ride the trend and convert part of their spaces into coworking areas or transform some of their rooms into private offices. The very idea of "short-term rent," the cornerstone of hotel distribution, could fade with the rise of digital nomads. In October of last year, Booking launched the long-stay rate, explicitly designed for those more extended stays, typical of the nomadic travel style. In addition to the canonical "per night" prices, you can book a hotel room for a week or a month. As we have seen, digital nomadism and smart working concepts are closely linked, and hotels interested in opening up to this growing slice of the market should develop their offer with this connection in mind. A digital nomad may want to choose a cheaper hotel or apartment for his stay but may still need more professional coworking spaces (or dedicated rooms) to meet clients or take important calls. In this sense, the phenomenon of digital nomadism is democratic: both small and very small properties and high-end hotels can benefit from it.
In summary, we can divide the needs of digital nomads into two macro-areas: extended stays and coworking spaces. To be enticed to book a specific structure, therefore, nomads must find some essential features in the property. Here are some tips for entering this market:
- In addition to the typical "per night" rates, offer weekly, monthly, or even annual packages. Nomads may want to stay in a destination for quite a long time, and having access to discounted long-stay prices would entice them to book your property;
- Day-use rates have a bad reputation, but a digital nomad may only need a room for a few hours, perhaps to meet a client or to take some particularly important calls. So think not only about long stays, but also about short stays (and even less than one night). An hourly offer could be particularly attractive for those nomads who are just passing through or who have an appointment in your city while moving between one destination and another;
- Even the antiquated half-board and full-board food plan could be revived by nomads, especially in more canonically hotel properties that do not offer a kitchen area. Offer a simple and inexpensive menu for these special stays. In general, however, nomads prefer flexibility, so the best solution would be to offer everything they need to cook independently in the room. Apartments and apart-hotels have an advantage here, but hotels could also integrate a kitchen space in some of their rooms to be more appealing;
- Never forget that a digital nomad is, for the most part, a worker. Often a small business owner or freelance, but nothing prevents them from being an employee of a company that promotes smart working. The phenomenon, as we have seen, is transversal. Make sure that the nomad has all the tools to work, both in the bedroom and in the common areas. Conditio sine qua non, of course, is a a strong Wi-Fi signal. Much of the nomad's work takes place online, and an unstable connection would already cut you off from the properties these travelers demand.
- Not just Wi-Fi, of course. Make sure that the digital nomad can have access to the minimum services they would find in an office or a professional coworking space: a desk, a good ergonomic chair, a multiple socket charger, a power strip, access to a printer. If you've converted rooms into workspaces, think about offering a coffeemaker and some light snacks, too - protein power bars, almonds, and nuts are often the digital nomad's typical lunch and a welcomed addition to the room.
In a world where physical presence in the office becomes less and less important, starting to look at the trend of digital nomadism with due attention becomes crucial from an entrepreneurial point of view.