Designing the Future of Tourism – Part 3

It is estimated that there will be 1 billion digital nomads by 2035. Photo: UNDP Mauritius and Seychelles/Jean-Yan Norbert

Over the past ten years, the tourism sector has been a main econonomic pillar for many Small Islands Developing States (SIDS). However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, many signs have indicated that the time had come to re-imagine the traditional tourism industry models, and to attract new segments of international travellers.

Digital nomads are location-independent people who use digital communication and technology to work. With currently 35 million digital nomads globally, it is estimated that the nomadic population will reach 1 billion by 2035. During the pandemic, workers across the world shifted to the work-from-home model to ensure business continuity. Millions of them moved from their locations to cheaper places with digital facilities, thus creating a new working lifestyle and a significant impact on international travel trends.

Mauritius and Rodrigues have the potential to become a haven for the digital nomad community. Both islands have seen improvements in the digital and technological sectors and can offer a new sense of adventure, exploration, and lifestyle to the nomads. However, it is important that they make efforts to consolidate their assets to bolster competitive advantages over other destinations.

The Republic of Mauritius will need to create the connections across three sectors, namely technology, environment and culture, to favour economic growth for smaller actors. Photo: UNDP Mauritius/Stéphane Bellerose

Tapping into the Digital Nomad segment through a green recovery

Digital nomads are looking for safe destinations that offer unique adventures. Though both Mauritius and Rodrigues offer some exclusive features, they need to consolidate their traditional assets and to re-define their sustainable tourism value chain to adapt to these new-generation tourists. It is vital that the people remain at the heart of this transition. To achieve this, the islands could use a community-driven tourism model to promote responsible consumer behaviour and ensure a deeper cultural exchange and understanding between the digital nomads and the residents.

During the collective intelligence session, participants highlighted that unsustainable coastal development and unplanned urban development are negative points for Mauritius and Rodrigues. Both islands should make efforts to promote eco-accommodations and co-living spaces that integrate nature and contribute to lessen the impact on the environment. Moreover, there are opportunities to seize by creating a more sustainable value chain. For instance, Rodrigues has been promoting innovative green recovery activities since 2020. The island had instituted a Tourism Alternative Livelihood Scheme and up-skilled its tourism industry through free training and replantation of corals in collaboration with the local civil societies.

As SIDS, Mauritius and Rodrigues can embrace a system approach to take advantage of the digital nomad tourism model and build economic resilience through sustainable local economies and greener livelihoods. Our small islands have much to gain by integrating more synergy across the public-private-civil societies platform to empower communities and local enterprises.

The traditional Sea, Sun and Sand tourism model needs to be reviewed to accommodate a new generation of travellers. Photo: UNDP Mauritius and Seychelles

Introducing an innovative tourism approach to attract the digital nomads

The Republic of Mauritius, which ranked first in the Sub-Saharan region in the fields of innovation and technology, should be introducing an innovative tourism approach to attract the digital nomads, who are a rapidly evolving community. The introduction of QR codes to access information around the island, rapidly and in an eco-friendly manner, could provide many solutions to future visitors.

In a pandemic context, where all the sectors of the local economy were impacted, digital upskilling and reskilling of workers will also be required to improve the access to technology and full integration of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises into the value chain of the local tourist industry. Furthermore, both Mauritius and Rodrigues could establish a resilient, sustainable and responsible tourism model which would support local enterprises through the concept of Agricultural Tourism (agritourism). Ranging from educational to outdoor agricultural activities, hospitality and accommodation services, this approach can help to promote a resilient, eco-friendly and sustainable island.

Digital nomads are environmentally conscious and favour transport modes that are less polluting. In Mauritius and Rodrigues, the transportation system is still mainly dependent on fossil fuels, and efforts will thus have to be made to accommodate more pedestrianised areas in cities and cycling routes. Such measures will not only contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of international travellers but will also enable greater access to the local culture and producers. To favour economic growth for smaller actors, the Republic of Mauritius will also need to create connections across three sectors, namely technology, environment and culture. 

2020 has greatly impacted international travel and imposed challenges on the tourism sector. However, it has also created an opportunity to look into more flexible ways of revamping the traditional economic models. If Mauritius and Rodrigues want to become a haven for digital nomads, they will have to create a more eco-friendly, community-based, and culture-oriented relationship with this new generation of travellers.

In the next blog, insights will be shared on a fourth hypothesis related to designing the future of tourism: how can Mauritius and Rodrigues leverage existing information and communication technologies to expand access to new market segments for small operators?

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