The rise of the digital nomad hit a speed bump with the pandemic, which has slowed travel worldwide. But the growing movement may have attracted a new batch of remote workers, as people everywhere experiment with new ways of working while travelling - or just get fed up living and working from home. In fact, over a third of travellers (37%*) we surveyed said they’ve considered booking a property just so they could work from a different destination.
Whether it means appealing to full-fledged digital nomads or everyday office workers who are trying to combine work and leisure, the market has been pivoting to accommodate them. Booking.com recently created its Work-Friendly Programme, with many home partners who offer work amenities joining to attract these valuable guests. Homes and apartments with work-friendly amenities accounted for 40% of new bookings in April and June. Hotels have also begun investing in the trend, with large chains like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt recently rolling out work-oriented programmes.
With the race on to provide suitable workspaces for this slice of the traveller market, it’s worth asking: what do remote workers look for when choosing accommodations? We spoke to two prominent travel bloggers whose lives revolve around hopping from accommodation to accommodation.
A decade of working from anywhere
Matthew Kepnes has made a career out of not just being a digital nomad but promoting the lifestyle. The author of “Ten Years A Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home”, he shares his experiences on his popular travel blog, Nomadic Matt.
“When I’m looking for a place to stay for a few days, I think the first things I look at are the same as most people: location and price,” says Kepnes. “Beyond that, fast, reliable wifi is important.” Indeed, it’s a top concern for this group, who can’t get much work done without it. If you offer superior Internet as part of your value proposition, consider including a screenshot of a typical wifi speed test performed at the property. It’s a great way to get guests to notice your attention to this crucial detail.
As for his first preference, location, there is an additional detail Kepnes looks for. “I think a lot of remote workers are relatively health-conscious - we have to be, since we sit at a screen for hours and hours every day. So proximity to either a gym, yoga studio or healthy restaurant won’t hurt.”
Finding these kinds of recommendations waiting for him when he arrives at a property is always a good sign. He also likes being made aware of nearby places where he can get work done. “While we can Google them ourselves, having a local point us to reliable places where we can work would save us a lot of time and energy. These little touches make a huge difference!”
Helping them get things done
“I think the number one myth I see is that digital nomads spend their days by the pool or beach as their bank accounts magically fill up with passive income,” jokes Kepnes. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. “Working remotely is just like any other job.”
He spends long hours at a computer, so having a comfortable workstation is something he truly appreciates. “A spacious desk and chair are worth their weight in gold,” he says. “Having lots of conveniently-located outlets is also a huge plus.”
The pandemic has seen travellers who normally stay in hotels gravitate to more socially distanced short-term rentals. But that trend isn’t necessarily the case for remote workers. “I think it comes down to personal preference,” suggests Kepnes. “Both apartments and hotels have their place and I like to mix up my stays. Sometimes I’m in the mood to relax and be left alone, while other times I want to cook, chat with locals and see what I can learn.”
From ‘Broke Backpacker’ to entrepreneur
Will Hatton began his travels as The Broke Backpacker, but he’s evolved his blog over the past decade to write about digital nomad life as he fell into the pattern. An entrepreneur at heart, he’s currently building a hostel in Bali aimed expressly at digital nomads. He leans towards staying at vacation rentals - but not always. “I prefer to rent apartments or villas or stay in boutique hotels.” he says. “Comfy, unique spaces are what give me creative energy, and it goes without saying that a proper desk is another must - otherwise you end up working from bed, which can be less than productive.”
He thinks digital nomads are very different from backpackers and business travellers. “They’re not looking for rock-bottom prices and don't need a full range of services.” The key to understanding them may be to cater to their need for routine and focus on work. “When I stay long-term, I need to mix the rhythms of normal life into my routine. I like to have a kitchen to make my own coffee and breakfasts. I want to be out of busy city districts so I can get six hours of peaceful sleep.”
Longer stays, less need for extra services
Hatton believes remote workers are a smart segment to attract, particularly during the pandemic. “Digital nomads are, in my opinion, among the most respectful and least-demanding travellers. Plus, they tend to book much longer time frames.” Those longer term stays may be particularly attractive to partners now, with over half of partners surveyed (56%) saying they’re looking to add promotions to attract longer stays. An added bonus is that remote workers don’t follow the typical patterns of vacationers, so they may be an ideal guest to attract during the off season.
He acknowledges these guests may be thrifty. “If your business model is based on selling extra services like food and drink in an on-site restaurant, remote workers likely won't buy as much as vacationers or business travellers.” That said, navigating the pandemic has made conveniences like that a selling point for him at times. “In some places, lockdown restrictions make hotels with more amenities look a lot more attractive.” Property managers can cater to this by offering on-site food services that a digital nomad would normally find in a city.
Their journey - and work - continues
Despite the pandemic, these digital nomads are still booking accommodations, collecting travel experiences and sharing them with their communities. “Where restrictions aren't so tight, you'll still find me renting a villa, treehouse, bungalow or apartment,” says Hatton. “Somewhere unique, comfy and inspiring where I feel comfortable to stay for a while.”
Kepnes spent a healthy amount of time quarantined this year, but the call of the road is strong. He’s migrating to Mexico for his next adventure. Of course, he makes it a point to travel responsibly and encourages other remote workers to do the same. Helping guests in that effort by pointing them to local locations where they can get a test could be a great value add.
“I just did a COVID test in preparation, even though it’s not required,” he explains. (He tested negative.) “I think it’s vital for remote workers and digital nomads to travel responsibly. We need to set a good example and do everything we can to ensure the safety of the places we visit.”
- With most work being done outside of offices during the pandemic, accommodation providers large and small have been pivoting to attract remote workers
- Many digital nomads prefer vacation rentals over hotels - but not always. Work amenities and lockdown restrictions may change that preference
- This cohort of travellers often stays longer and out of season, making them especially attractive during the pandemic
- Travelling responsibly during the pandemic is as strong a concern of digital nomads as all travellers, so having information about where guests can take tests could be helpful