Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the "digital nomad" was seen primarily as a younger traveler living and working in a destination among likeminded peers.
Digital nomad communities had varying responses to the pandemic, with some opting to remain in service while others pivoted to virtual
As the crisis prolongs and people from many industries continue to work remotely, the idea of the digital nomad is expanding to include basically anyone looking for a change of scenery to live and work.
"Historically, we think of digital nomads as a very millennial thing," says Airbnb vice president and general manager Clara Liang. But now, she says, the digital nomad concept has gone
from this "unique, emerging use case" to something couples, groups of friends or families can do together.
For Airbnb, which shifted its model in April to focus on long-term stays, the home-share company says it’s continuing to see
an increase in digital nomads booking long-term stays as well as in hosts offering those types of stays.
According to a recent Harris poll, 74% of Americans already working remotely would consider taking a "work-cation" where they live and work somewhere other than their home for an extended period of time. And nearly half of those working remotely in the
U.S. say that they have already used Airbnb to find a remote working destination.
Airbnb says more than six million active listings on the platform accept monthly stays, and more than half of those listings offer discounts for extended trips. Though Airbnb did not provide specific numbers, it says guest bookings for monthly stays have
"increased significantly" in recent months.
Liang says she's seeing more people looking beyond simply a local getaway - meaning they're traveling farther to different locations. "It really is a start of an evolving way of living," she says. "Some people ultimately end up settling in a new city.
Some people will come home and some people will keep up this digital nomad kind of lifestyle."
And while bookings for long-term stays - defined as those booked for more than 28 days - are increasing, so, too, are weeklong bookings as well as trips extending to multiple months, Liang says.
In addition to entire homes, private rooms are also being booked for long-term stays. With private rooms, the hosts and guests are "essentially in a bubble - you know who I am and I know who you are," Liang says. "I think within the bounds of what safety
and COVID and local regulations are allowing, we do see the spectrum of stay types."
Targeting digital nomads
To make it easier for digital nomads to find the types of stays they're looking for, Airbnb has updated its homepage in most countries to highlight ways people can discover nearby stays.
"We're making it easier to search, and also helping hosts understand this stay type and use case ... and making it easier for guests to close," Liang says.
People are thinking about their priorities, their lifestyle and how work and life and travel blends.
Clara Liang - Airbnb
She says Airbnb hosts appreciate the types of guests the platform brings,
and guests appreciate what they receive from Airbnb hosts. "It's the idea that they're part of a community," she says. "Our hosts know how to keep everyone safe."
However, other players in the long-term rental space don’t believe Airbnb is the best equipped to handle these types of stays.
Says Satoru Steve Naito, co-founder and CEO of monthly rental marketplace Anyplace: "Our booking process is easier than Airbnb’s. We’re optimized for mid-long-term stays, but Airbnb
isn’t – they are optimized for short-term stays.
"If people secure a long-term stay on Airbnb, they need to communicate a lot with hosts by chat. Since Airbnb doesn’t provide a screening system, hosts usually ask the purpose of the stay, occupation and income verification (bank statements, pay stubs,
etc.). It’s time-consuming for customers. If hosts accept unqualified mid-long-term guests, there is a risk that they won't pay their rent for the next month - and beyond. I've heard of such cases."
Anyplace, meanwhile, provides a screening system and can instantly check the customer’s background and income verification on its website. "It’s optimized for a nomadic lifestyle," Naito says.
Liang sees the digital nomad lifestyle as a lasting trend in particular because companies are getting comfortable with workers being remote, and "people are thinking about their priorities, their lifestyle and how work and life and travel blends."
In fact, Airbnb says it's seeing some companies use living and working remotely as a perk for employees as well as a recruiting tactic.
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Naito agrees that long-term stays will be a lasting trend. "Many short-term operators such as hotels and vacation rentals are pivoting to long-term stays because they expect demand to recover slowly. It takes one to two years to get back to normal. So they are finding opportunities
to fill their empty rooms in a different way."
For consumers, even post-COVID, "I expect many people to naturally become digital nomads," he says. "The business of providing medium- to long-term accommodations will be a big market."
Asked if he believes if long-term stays will be a lasting trend, Frontdesk co-founder and chief product officer Jesse DePinto says, "Yes and no."
In May, the serviced apartment rental company raised $6.8 million and started targeting longer stays.
"Long-term stays are certainly trending in 2020 on short-term rental marketplaces like Airbnb due to the nature of travel demand declining amidst the various travel restrictions and pandemic fears. Short-term rental providers like Frontdesk are offering
steeper long-term discounts simply to increase their portfolio occupancy, which is driving consumer demand away from traditional mid-term and long-term channels and onto short-term rental channels like Airbnb," he says.
"However, we do see long-term stays as a lasting trend, even post-COVID, simply due to the unprecedented rise in remote workers."