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The digital nomads are coming (this time for real!)

The speculation about the post-pandemic future of work and leisure continues to grow. One area attracting particular attention is the future of location-independent workers, or digital nomads. Research from WYSE Travel Confederation and ATLAS has been tracking the growth of this phenomenon for more than two decades. For a long time it looked as if digital nomads would remain a small and largely ignored niche. This began to change in 2015 with a prediction by Pieter Levels that there would be one billion digital nomads by 2035. But few people paid much attention to this prediction until the pandemic, when it became hard for people not to be digital, and many discovered that being nomad wasn't such a bad idea either. Once we had been set free from the office, why not take your laptop to an exotic beach or a cool hillside in Bali?

Not surprisingly, scepticism still reigned, especially when some big corporation bosses began to call their work-shy staff back to the office. Now that Boris Johnson has decided it is ok to ditch all Covid measures in spite of sharply rising infection levels in the UK, people are having to take a long hard look at their options. As a recent BBC article points out, the remote-work genie is out of the bottle. There has been growing interest in digital nomadism during the pandemic, and this has been facilitated by a growing digital nomad infrastructure as well. As we reported last year, countries around the world are enticing digital nomads with customised visas and tax breaks, hostels are setting up dedicated global nomad workspaces and Airbnb is targeting them with long-term stays. A recent report by Airbnb notes "11% of Airbnb long-term stay bookers in 2021 have reported living a nomadic lifestyle,

and 5% plan on giving up their primary residences in favor of staying in Airbnbs."

Given the ideological aversion that classic nomads had for commercial operations such as Airbnb, this signals a major shift towards nomadic travel styles. In 2017, WYSE Travel Confederation reported that only 0.6% of youth travellers saw themselves as digital nomads. The Airbnb figures therefore potentially represent an 18-fold increase in the level of nomadism in just four years. At this rate, one billion digital nomads by 2035 should be within the bounds of possibility. When young people in developed economies also look at the cost of living and reconcile themselves to never getting on the housing ladder, they may decide to become digital nomads in droves.

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