Remote working is having a positive impact on another even more relevant and fundamental aspect of tourism: sustainability
Over the last years booking figures have shown there is one particular travel segment that is increasingly interested in choosing the Canary Islands as their preferred basis: remote workers. There are two main reasons that have contributed to this surge in demand: On one hand, there are companies such as repeople and Nomad City that have been working for many years to create a favourable ecosystem to attract these communities, while promoting the islands’ obvious advantages to create an ideal remote worker environment (such as infrastructure, culture, leisure facilities or safety to name a few). On the other hand, the COVID pandemic has decisively contributed by significantly accelerating the process of increasing work and labour flexibility.
The fact that remote work has ceased to be a niche segment and can be considered mainstream nowadays is excellent news for the Canary Islands. It allows for greater strategic diversification by adding a new tourism segment to some of the more traditional ‘sun and beach’ holidays the islands have been offering successfully for many years. But there is an additional positive impact that this new segment is having on another ever more relevant and fundamental aspect of tourism: sustainability.
Sustainable tourism is defined as having the smallest possible impact on the environment while promoting social development. Environmental aspects include the optimization of natural resources as well as the reduction or elimination of pollution and waste. Sustainability’s social development focuses on a more even and just distribution of wealth as well as promoting local cultural heritage and protecting its authenticity.
So how are remote workers and digital nomads contributing to sustainable tourism in the Canary Islands? There are 3 main arguments:
- Remote workers are generally more interested in getting to know the destination where they live and they tend to be more integrated. The simple fact that they tend to spend longer periods of time on the islands than traditional tourists (4-8 weeks average stay) makes them want to understand how the islands ‘function’: how energy is being generated, what type of agriculture there is, how the water supply does work, what waste management there is in place, etc. Because of these clients’ increased interest in environmental aspects they tend value investments in sustainability projects to a higher degree, which in turn makes these projects more viable for regional governments in the long run as a higher percentage of their tourism customer base is more invested.
- The remote workers’ interest in the destination also extends to socio-economic and cultural aspects: as these clients start forming a stronger personal and emotional bond with the destination they become more interested in its cultural heritage, the population’s way of life and society’s wealth distribution. These clients are more conscious how they spend their money in the Canaries, what type of products they buy and what services they want to enjoy. It is for that reason that investing in digital nomads and remote work is an investment in socially responsible tourism.
- Lastly, another important factor that needs to be taken into account is the island’s tourism carbon footprint, in particular because of the Canaries’ high dependency on flight connectivity. But also in this matter remote work tourism does have a positive impact. The fact that digital nomads and remote workers statistically increase the visitors’ average stay actually reduces the destination’s dependency on flight frequency in the same proportion. The math is very simple: If we take one remote worker staying for 6 weeks in a holiday apartment and compare her with 6 tourists staying 1 week each in that same apartment, the flight capacity needed to service that one client is reduced by 83%. Let’s put that into perspective: if remote workers represented just 10% of the islands’ total tourism volume the flight capacity and its associated carbon footprint to the Canaries would be reduced on average by 8% – a figure not to be dismissed considering the European Union’s stretching carbon emission targets for the coming decades.
If the Canary Islands’ strategy is to further diversify their tourism industry, and to make it more sustainable and more resilient to face future challenges, then investing in remote work and digital nomad tourism is an important step in the right direction.