The Digital Nomad Goes Mainstream.
When I was a teenager, one of my teachers called me a fine "prognosticator." I had no idea what she was talking about. For all I knew, this proper Christian mentor of mine could have been calling me a "pornographer." But I sensed it was a positive quality, so I accepted the compliment.
In the travel biz, I've been fortunate to earn this label as an early identifier of a few trends: boutique hotels, urban spas, "glamping," home-sharing, co-living, and regenerative communities, transformational travel and midlife wisdom schools. While we're living through a barren desert in the hospitality industry right now, I think the most provocative long-term trend that will influence the industry will be the Millennial's desire to remain untethered from a permanent home as long as one can be tethered to a wondrous Wi-Fi connection.
What's the evidence for this trend? Twitter, Square, Shopify, and other companies are telling their employees they can work remotely permanently. Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg now says half of its employees will work remotely within five years (of course, many industries can't copy this approach). Here's a website listing companies offering permanent remote status for their workers.
So, what does this mean for the hospitality industry? There's a burgeoning segment of travelers that are not looking for a "home away from home," but a "home instead of home." We've lived in an era where homes and hotels felt mutually exclusive, but Airbnb came along to suggest they're no longer binary and digital nomads have been fueling the growth of both home-sharing and co-living for quite some time now.
The hotel industry still thinks "extended stay" lodging is defined by offering two banal guest rooms (a living room and a bedroom) instead of one, all in some soulless office park. Don't assume that Residence Inn, Extended Stay America, Homewood Suites will be the primary beneficiaries of the digital nomad going mainstream. Instead, it'll be companies like Selina, The Collective, Habitas, Zoku, Mojo Nomad, Roam, and HouseStay. Of course, all of them—just like Airbnb had to do—need to mainstream their offering and appeal to a broader market. The savviest companies may move from a transactional model to a membership model where you pay an annual fee to access all of these lovely dots on the map.
Imagine doing winter in Baja, spring in Bali, summer in Boston, and fall in Austin, all while getting paid by your employer or your clients if you're a consultant. You've wiped out a whole collection of expenses: your rent or mortgage, property taxes and insurance, furnishings and stuff, monthly internet and utility bills. As my friend James Forbes suggests, these companies will create "Nomad Standards" of access control from your phone or media platform, so wherever you are, you're naturally connected to your Netflix or Spotify, enhanced video conferencing capabilities and co-working spaces. It's not for everyone, but as evidenced by yesterday's guest posts from the Senior Nomads, as well as the fact that our MEA co-founder Jeff Hamaoui and his wife Rachel moved their two young kids to Baja on their nomadic journey from the Bay Area in late 2017, this isn't just a Millennial thing.
My friend Bryan Forrester prognosticates an opposite trend: global hotel brands packaging hospitality experiences in your own home. He says, "Could a household hotel chain (e.g., Hilton) arrange a spa day, a counseling session, a house cleaning, a romantic dinner, and childcare over a 24-hour period at a person's home? A true "stay-cation!"
The world pressed "pause" on our lives a few months ago, and, once again, we're cautiously pressing "play." But the travel industry isn't pressing pause on ingenuity or innovation. The pioneering ideas won't likely come from the hotel giants. As we move from hibernation to a hyper-nation primed to experience a new approach to life and travel, the future of hospitality and community may take forms that none of us imagined just a few short months ago.
We live in an era in which time is not a renewable resource, but money is. As Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton so convincingly pointed out in their book "The 100 Year Life," the tyranny of the three-stage life (learn, earn, retire) is over. An exquisite life will be one that is full of resets and transitions, gap years, and sabbaticals, which bodes for a more mobile populace seeking new kinds of hospitality products. In other words, go fill up your whiteboard with bold and creative ideas. The new world is waiting.
Here’s a blog post from a few months ago with 10 of my favorite places to “reinspire” (as opposed to “retire”).