Who are digital nomads? Are their numbers increasing? What's the future of this market for the Caribbean?
Digital nomads defy a single definition, yet all choose to combine remote work and travel, although the length of stay varies, according to McLean Robbins, vice president of Enterprise Marketing and MBO Partners.
"United by a passion for travel and new adventures, digital nomads enjoy the ability to work anywhere they can connect to the internet," Robbins said, citing research by MBO Partners.
The digital nomad trend is on the rise
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated major changes in the makeup of the digital nomad workforce. Panelists on a recent Caribbean Tourism Organization webinar confirmed this, as did statistics from MBO Partners that revealed 15.5 million American workers currently describe themselves as digital nomads, an increase of 42% from 2020 and 112% from 2019, pre-pandemic.
The Caribbean recognized that offering programs to digital nomads who could power up their laptops on a beach during an extended-stay workcation could bring travelers and revenue to their islands despite Covid-required lockdowns and tough entry requirements.
Barbados kicked it off with its Welcome Stamp program in July 2020, followed by the One Year Work from Bermuda program a month later.
Other destinations followed in the months since: Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; the Bahamas; the Cayman Islands; Curacao; Dominica; the Dominican Republic; Montserrat; Puerto Rico and St. Lucia. Individual hotels and resorts also got into the trend, offering perks and discounted rates for long stays.
How does a digital nomad decide where to travel?
"The safety of an island is prime consideration," said Ronald Ndoro Mind, founder of Workmango.com. "We offer a checklist that digital nomads should consider before embarking on this venture."
Mind, a digital nomad himself who relocated recently to Antigua to work and live for two years, did a lot of research before making his decision.
"I had to be mindful of a lot of things," he said, ticking off items like tax issues, health insurance and how easy it is to travel to or from a destination.
His company acts as a one-stop-shop for potential nomads. It charges a membership fee of $495 which promotes access to locals and like-minded people on the island and help with all the ins and outs of making such a move, such as sending videos of the destination and answering all questions so that customers understand what they are getting when they go there.
Dimitrios Buhalis, a tourism professor at England's Bournemouth University, said that digital nomads need to know if they can order and receive materials from companies such as Amazon. They must feel secure regarding the health facilities at the destination, have a choice of accommodations and know the entry protocols, especially the testing and quarantine requirements.
"This customer has to understand what they're getting," he said.
Make the experience as seamless as possible for the traveler was the advice from Carlos Munoz, Airbnb's director of public policies. "Governments need to make infrastructure improvements; improve the roads; assure that internet, broadband and connectivity are strong and reliable," he said.
Robbins added that destination websites should include all requirements for digital nomads considering relocation, adding that "if the information and infrastructures not there, the destination should not be marketed as such."
Buhalis wrapped up the session with this advice to potential digital nomads: "Try it out. There are a lot of benefits to getting daily sunshine."