The company behind Europe’s first “digital nomad village” in Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, is now bringing the project to Brazil.
A pilot project, first unveiled by Skift, will open on November 1 in Pipa, in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, and will run until at least the end of April.
Like most destinations during the pandemic, Madeira has faced a slump in tourism. As a result, the regional government supported the village concept of the digital community NomadX in the small town of Ponta do Sol.
Launched in February 2021, this project promoted housing, workplaces and networking events for digital nomads and remote workers looking for a change of scenery after a year of lockdown. It has been hailed as one of the first public-private sector initiatives of its kind aimed at boosting economic activity.
Now the Brazilian government has given the green light to a similar project, which Goncalo Hall, founder of NomadX, says will be the first of its kind in South America.
NomadX’s Madeira project officially raised $30 million a year for the local economy based on the 6,000 people who signed up for the program, Hall said, but he estimates the actual amount could be double that.
That kind of cash injection appealed to Brazil, and Hall predicts this next “village” will bring in $36 million a year for the Pipa community. About 25 percent of digital nomads are entrepreneurs, so there’s more scope for longer-term spending than just tourists and backpackers hitting the bars and beaches.
NomadX helps prepare locals to cope with an influx of teleworkers and digital nomads, ensuring infrastructure such as housing and WiFi is appropriate. The beach town of Pipa was also chosen as it is 90 minutes from Natal International Airport and has a good bus network. The initial focus will be on setting up co-living accommodations and if successful, NomadX will continue the program in partnership with the local community and state tourism board.
“The pandemic has opened up the government to new solutions,” Hall said. “If tourism had been in full swing, I don’t think the government would have had the bandwidth to even think about digital nomads.”
In fact, the village idea wasn’t originally intended for pandemic-weary digital nomads. Room, who will be speaking at the first Skift Global Forum East in Decembersaid he first wrote a proposal for the Italian government five years ago to help it repopulate its smaller villages.
“Nomads pop up at the top of the funnel, but the end goal is to create an ecosystem,” Hall said. “Yes, the shiny object is digital nomads, that’s how you attract people… (but) there is always a long-term vision for what we build.”
Building them is not easy
It took two years to get the Brazil project off the ground, Hall said. In addition to fighting the coronavirus, the country is preparing for parliamentary elections, which are due to be held in October.
The government is a logistics and marketing partner, but is not currently investing directly. But that could change. “Right now it’s more the local tourist board than the national government until we know who wins in October,” he added.
In addition to the state level, NomadX’s work may face other logistical challenges. His project in Cape Verde, a series of islands off the west coast of Africa, was struggling with the airlift until a partnership was struck with TAP Air Portugal to cut fares. It has also matched nomads with NGOs to raise awareness.
However, his primary role is to partner with hospitality and tourism businesses already based locally, including local guesthouses, hotels and Airbnbs. It assembles the shelters, employs community managers, and connects its own digital nomad community with these local businesses.
The concept reflects Skift’s 2022 megatrend: Communities are no longer spectators on the road.
“Tourism boards adopting a ‘locals first’ approach post-pandemic will remain, as will the need to retain the contribution of residents to tourism management to ensure the future success of the industry,” Skift reported in 2021.
“The idea is when the government contract ends, you have all the space there. The government isn’t going to give you money forever,” Hall said.
Central and South America are becoming hotspots for telecommuters.
Sam Khazary, Selina’s senior vice president of global corporate development, headquartered in Panama, said earlier this year at Skift’s Future of Lodging Forum that the company is in the process of planning popular itineraries in the region.
French hotel group Accor, meanwhile, is seeing success in Brazil with its co-work space brand Wojo. Accor has 150 hotels offering Wojo rooms in South America, including about 100 in Brazil. There are also 40 participating hotels in Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Chile.
Of the 150 hotels, a third offer private offices, and Accor said it receives an average of 10 to 20 clients in its co-working spaces each day, while several companies have signed deals to use private offices.
A spokesman told Skift that 50 more hotels in the region would start offering Wojo by the end of 2022.
The business travel industry should view WeWork’s latest results in a positive light.
The co-working space provider and platform highlighted the continued growth of its flexible subscriptions, which companies are increasingly offering to their employees. The result is a potential boost for team and employee travel in the years to come as fixed offices give way to ad hoc meetings and gatherings in different locations.
As one of the largest operators of co-working spaces, it is a kind of pioneer for future work and business travel trends. And in its second-quarter results, WeWork said its all-access memberships grew to 62,000, a 13 percent increase from the previous quarter.
This relatively new membership program offers a monthly pass for each WeWork location, making it about $180 million to $190 million a year. However, the CEO sees an increase to 100,000 passes – despite the current capacity cap of 75,000 to 80,000 passes.
“I’ve challenged the team to find ways to increase capacity so we can get that to about 100,000 members and grow All Access revenue to over $300 million,” Sandeep Mathrani said during a conference call to the results on Thursday. “So we’re very optimistic about this product.”
Mathrani said one customer, Xerox, is now a fully decentralized company and has said its distributed workforce wants workspace hubs set up in different cities so sales teams can come together, host events and meet with customers.
Another outdoor gear and apparel retail customer recently purchased 2,600 All-Access passes to offer employees “optionality” while minimizing fixed costs.
One development that travel agencies and travel tech companies should have on their radar, however, is WeWork’s new Workplace platform, an all-in-one tool that helps businesses manage their employees, spaces, and assets. And those areas include non-WeWork locations.
Workplace was developed in partnership with real estate software company Yardi and only launched in July.
It’s designed to empower employees “to engage more purposefully with the spaces they choose and to make more meaningful physical connections,” according to the company. And there’s the word “purposeful” – a popular term in the travel management community today as the need to justify business travel intensifies.
WeWork wants to radically expand Workplace in the future. It has so far registered 11 companies on the platform and provided them with 7,400 licenses, but has a pipeline of more than 100 companies with 35,000 licenses.
Despite a net loss of $635 million, which was worse than the $504 million loss in the first quarter, the brand’s hybrid work trend will likely help trim some of those losses in the next quarter.
10-second catch-up service for business trips
Who and what Skift reported on in the past week: Accor, Airbnb, Air France, Amadeus, HRS, IAG, IHG, JetBlue Airways, Marriott, Saber, Southwest Airlines, Uber Travel, United Airlines, Yotel.
Corp travel deals are picking up steam
It’s been a busy week for mergers and acquisitions in Europe. those of the United Kingdom Gray Dawes Group bought travel management company Ventur Travel, formerly known as Travelreads. The acquisition also brings Venture Travel’s specialty leisure division, Ventur Luxury, into the Gray Dawes family. Meanwhile, Israeli travel group Talma Shlomo has acquired a 51 percent stake in the corporate hotel booking platform arbitration. On Thursday corporate hotel booking platform hours said it bought PayPense as it continues to push into expense management. The deal is expected to close by the end of the month.
Corporate Travel Agency Atlas Receives First B Corp Rating
Atlas travel and technology group claims it is the first travel management company in the US to receive B Corporation certification. Accreditation measures a company’s social and environmental impact by redefining success through targeted positive impacts for its stakeholders, including customers, employees, local and global communities, and the environment.
“The rigorous certification process has made us a better company, highlighting our superlatives and pointing out some areas that need more attention. Our priority has always been to do what is right for our people, the community and the environment, knowing that there would be a positive bottom line,” said CEO Elaine Osgood.
The agency joins 2,500 other B Corps in 160 industries around the world, and Atlas will be sharing more at the Global Business Travel Association Convention, taking place August 14-17 in San Diego.
The Airbus division Skytra is changing its top management
Airfare and hedging platform Skytra has shaken up its leadership team with new roles for its two co-founders. Elise Weber became CEO while Matthew Tringham is now CEO. Previously, they were Chief Sales and Marketing Officer and Chief Strategy and Product Officer, respectively. Weber replaces Mark Howarth. Meanwhile, Jeremy Norwood has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer and Lee Brown to Chief Financial Officer.
The company said the restructuring stemmed from its fulcrum during the pandemic, when it shifted its immediate focus to aviation-related data and risk management products in response to market and customer demand, as well as “organic changes” driven by family commitments and natural evolution. “The changes essentially focus on ensuring we are in the best possible position to serve our customers,” a spokesman said.
Airbus introduced Skytra in 2019 because airline customers expressed concerns about purchasing its aircraft. After such a large capital investment, there was no real way to protect against a drop in ticket prices.