Digital nomads – a new opportunity for travel companies?

The remote working phenomenon means travel is no longer a luxury confined to periods of annual leave. The number of ‘digital nomads’ in the U.S. alone surged to 11 million in 2020 – a rise of 50% in just one year. And for travel companies who aren’t sure when pre-pandemic levels of demand will return, these wandering workers represent a whole new avenue of opportunity.

the proportion of ‘traditional workers’, who historically hold office or site-based roles, calling themselves digital nomad jumped by a massive 96%, from 3.2 million to around 6.3 million.

The term digital nomad existed on the fringes pre Covid-19, but the pandemic has projected this alternative lifestyle into the mainstream. Essentially, digital nomads are employed in one place but live in another area, city or country. Some choose to travel regularly and settle in locations for only a few weeks or months at a time. Others have a stable home base but use the perks of their remote roles to explore the globe on a more regular basis than annual leave allowances would allow.
While digital nomads aren’t new, their importance to travel companies has increased over the last year. VisitBritain estimates that foreign tourist spend in the U.K. will reach just £6.2 billion in 2021, compared to £28.4 billion in 2019. To make up for lost revenue from holidaymakers, travel companies will need to engage with new markets, like workers who roam the globe, to plug the income gap.

A growing community

The community of digital nomads in many countries is rising. For example, in the U.S., MBO Partners’ 2020 State of Independence found that between 2019 and 2020, it increased from 7.3 million to 10.9 million – a 50% increase in just one year.
One of the most interesting changes we’ve seen are the roles people hold. The number of digital nomads who are ‘independent workers’ (freelancers or contractors, for example) rose by just 12% year on year. Yet the proportion of ‘traditional workers’, who historically hold office or site-based roles, calling themselves digital nomad jumped by a massive 96%, from 3.2 million to around 6.3 million.
According to one of the biggest names in the hospitality and travel sector, this significant shift is translating into changing customer habits. Airbnb said that the number of long-term stays (defined as more than 28 days) almost doubled year-on-year in the first quarter of 2021. And across the American digital nomad community, 52% say they’re planning on spending more time in fewer locations.

Capitalising on new opportunities

Lots of companies are showing just how innovative it’s possible to be. For example, the Portuguese island of Madeira opened the world’s first ‘digital nomad village’ in February 2021, which offers free Wi-Fi and desk space for workers who are visiting for at least a month. Boardwalk Beach Hotel in Aruba and Washington D.C’s Hamilton Hotel, meanwhile, have set up ‘workation’ stations on the beach or within their premises.

Antigua & Barbuda has announced a digital nomad visa called the Nomad Digital Residence (NDR). Photo by Rick Jamison

It’s not just brands that are cashing in on the freedoms of flexible working. Countries including Iceland, Barbados, Croatia and The Cayman Islands have introduced ‘digital nomad’ visas, allowing visitors to stay longer and bring their work with them.

A digitised community

Digital nomads come from a diverse range of sectors, from sales to creative services. However, the one thing that ties them together is their reliance on tech. MBO Partners’ report found that 71% of respondents believe technology allows them to be more competitive in their work. Digital nomads are also more likely to describe themselves as early tech adopters. As such, travel companies must ensure their technology offerings are the best they can be. There has also been a rise in so-called ‘armchair digital nomads’; people who aspire to adopt the lifestyle but, realistically, will just continue to admire those who do. While they won’t translate into digital nomad customers, brands can also leverage the community for content purposes, inspiring a different kind of wanderlust in their customer bases.

Digitally transforming the travel market

It’s not enough for travel brands to simply sit up and take notice of this exciting new demographic. To convert interest into revenue, it’s vitally important that they show, rather than tell their audience about their tech capabilities.
One excellent way to do this is through your website. If you want customers to believe you can meet their tech needs, an unloved website in need of some TLC may not be the best way to convince them.
We’re experts in creating beautiful, functional digital presences for brands in the travel sector and beyond. So if you need a helping hand to shape up your website, we can help. Get in touch to find out more about what we do at 3Sixty.