Exploring the Connection Between Remote Work and the Future of Tourism in the Eastern Caribbean
Are you an urban dweller experiencing lockdown within confined spaces and cold climates? Do you need a change of scenery? Imagine if you could not only travel, but rather move to the Caribbean under a 12-month remote work programme, allowing you to work and live alongside ocean views. Tempting, isn’t it?
As the UNDP Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean continues its exploration on the role of the “tourism of tomorrow” in shaping the Blue New Normal, catalyzed by the fall of the travel sector due to COVID-19, some signals are emerging based on initial dialogues on how the industry is pivoting and being reimagined.
One of these emerging signals is rooted in a key trend in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where remote workers, or digital nomads, are moving to the Caribbean in increasing numbers due to the pandemic. This change in demographic from short-term vacationers to long-term visitors, some of whom evolve into residents, has altered the market; moving it away from leisurely vacationers and towards a digitally savvy and frequently entrepreneurial audience. This shift also includes psychographic implications as many nomads have articulated considerable interest in local dynamics, evidenced by for example, expressed desires to leave a legacy in the country that they are now calling home.
This new, exploratory direction has contributed to Phase 2 of the Multi-Country Office’s (MCO) COVID-19 FUTURE TOURISM response. The Lab contributed to the project by integrating and transferring knowledge of Accelerator Lab principles, approaches, and methodologies into programming to scale innovative development solutions and by sharing our findings on the shifting tourism landscape.
A large part of reshaping the future of tourism is in experimentation, which the Accelerator Lab is poised to do through its “big bet” on BlueDIGITAL, the core pilot for 2021 that will apply digital tools and solutions to improve Blue Economy value chains and ecosystems for fisherfolk, government, tourism industry partners and the general public as consumers. BlueDIGITAL includes BlueSeal, a national verification stamp created to recognize industry partners (hotels and restaurants) that are implementing sustainability practices.
On the ground, some of the most unusual and creative responses to COVID-19’s negative impact on tourism in the region have come from our blue innovator network and ecosystem, such as through the #IslandHack COVID-19 Hackathon challenge hosted in 2020. Through this process, one remarkable submission pitched was on the concept of Remote Work Barbados, which subsequently contributed to the breakthrough establishment of the Barbados Welcome Stamp. Thus far, the Welcome Stamp has proven to be successful, with over 2,500 “stampers” applications and many having already moved to Barbados from countries such as Canada, England, and the United States on this visa.
Similar remote work offerings are popping up across the Eastern Caribbean and are one element of the diversification of pre-COVID-19 tourism models. For instance, Montserrat is promoting escapism and tranquility through its stamp, Antigua and Barbuda is encouraging a live, work and play model via a residency visa and Dominica invites you to Work In Nature (WIN). These initiatives suggest a move away from the typical sun, sea, and sand product and a general repositioning of the region as the ideal setting for those who are reconsidering where and how they will function following the onset of the pandemic, often with interest in being closer to nature and adopting slower lifestyles.
Among SIDS, the potential to reinvigorate the industry by way of these entrants brings potential and hope. By blending business with travel, the lines between tourist and neighbor are becoming increasingly blurred, resulting in many opportunities for the growth and expansion of Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs). In just under a year, many accommodations have already adapted to suit these realities, such as by introducing “workation” retreats for guests. Recognizing these and other related movements, the Lab set out to better understand the current digital nomad ecosystem beginning with Barbados, as well as the potential connections to value chains in key segments of the Blue Economy. To do so, the Lab has been conducting discussions with thought leaders in the space and scanning many of the related social pages to collect data and insights.
Lending support to this new direction was a January 2021 report co-written by Caribbean Economist, Marla Dukharan and Damian Edgehill, which stated that, "Welcome Stampers are more likely to agree to and comply fully with a two-week quarantine, because so much more is at stake. Why not focus solely on this market, at least until the pandemic is brought under control? You never know - they may be the best fish to keep." Indeed, this concept of Welcome Stampers being more invested in domestic affairs has become even more clear.
On a global scale, through the Island Innovation's webinar this past February on Adapting Tourist Destinations for Remote Workers & Digital Nomads in 2021, further takeaways relevant to this line of inquiry began to appear, including the importance of niche marketing (how can the unique selling points of each island be highlighted?), the diaspora returning home and the sparking of novel business services. At base, an evident theme started to crystalize: islands throughout the world are leaning into attracting digital nomads in the absence of traditional tourists.
Through co-creation sessions with the Accelerator Lab SIDS network on emerging opportunities for tourism in SIDS, one key pattern that emerged across the board was on digital transformation. In Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, Cabo Verde, the Dominican Republic, the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles, reskilling and upskilling for alternative livelihoods and new businesses in the tourism ecosystem have been evident while utilizing app based and virtual models to support this transformation.
Within the Barbados and Eastern Caribbean MCO through FUT-Tourism, we recognized that what ties these macro and micro current trends together are the significant impacts remote workers can have at the community level, including economic spend and regenerative tourism pursuits. In building forward better and charting this course, there are often more questions than answers on this topic, due primarily to the fact that working remotely is still taking shape. To shed light on this exploratory path, below are the learning questions that have shaped this line of exploration thus far:
- Psychographics: Are remote workers and digital nomads seeking responsible, regenerative and community tourism options? If so, how can this be bolstered?
- Skills sharing: What are the expertise areas of remote workers and digital nomads, and how can we connect this highly skilled group with locals for joint ventures, networking, and capacity building in key sectors of the blue economy and in contributing to the future of work?
- Eastern Caribbean expansion: Is the Eastern Caribbean region leaning into a remote work strategy to offset traditional travel declines? If so, what are the benefits and drawbacks?
- Diaspora returning: Are Eastern Caribbean nationals returning to the region as opportunities for remote work expand?
In answering these queries, it will be essential to remain open and collaborative as we move ahead with probing and picking up on small signals of change in the tourism sphere and their contribution to the Blue New Normal. Have you noticed any similar patterns in your country? Do you have a unique idea that may harness the impact of remote work on sustainable development? If so, please contact the Accelerator Lab for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean and continue to follow along our learning journey of exploration as well as our big bet, BlueDIGITAL!
Contact: email@example.com. Co-written by Nikola Simpson and Jordanna Tennebaum, UNDP Accelerator Lab, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean