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Turning Free-Spirit Digital Nomads Into Travel Brand Ambassadors

A host of travel brands are ramping up efforts to tap into remote workers and digital nomads.

Many are trying their hand at developing new apps or features to build loyal communities, evolving their proposition to include digital spaces as well as physical spaces. It’s a classic case of turning your customers into brand ambassadors. Marketing and customer acquisition costs go down, repeat business goes up.

It’s a risky commercialization of a demographic who in essence represents being a free spirit, but then the travel industry can’t ignore the potential for more profits.

Remote workers are arguably set to be one of the fast-growing markets; just this week the Dutch parliament approved legislation to establish work-from-home as a legal right, while more governments are offering nomad visas (including Indonesia which is looking at a five-year, tax-free option.)

Here are three ways travel companies are reacting.

1. Connecting Solo Travelers

Travel companies seem keen to promote themselves as social connectors, and even the solution to loneliness.

As borders reopened earlier this year, online travel agency Hostelworld was quick off the mark to launch a networking platform called The Solo System for both its app and website. Before the pandemic about 60 percent of its guests were single travelers. It’s now building a platform to help guests work together and organize events.

Selina updated its app last month too with a new “guest connection” feature. After confirmation of booking, guests can opt in to find out who else is staying at the Selina property during their trip. Those who participate can see the first name, photo, and nationality of fellow guests before arrival, which it said makes a helpful ice breaker.

“Our entire platform is designed to inspire meaningful connections, and by adding the capability for our guests to connect with each other and form relationships leading into their stays, we’re creating the opportunities for them to have even more impactful experiences that lead to lifelong friendships,” said global chief marketing officer Elad Nir.

The company has also just published a research project that looked at social connections and remote work.

2. The Entry Point

Another stance travel brands are taking is that of reassurance. Remote Year (a division of Selina) this week restructured its business model with a new Facebook-like, community-focused platform, called RY Nation Hub — “designed to address what we’ve learned from our customers: there is strong demand for community building amongst remote and hybrid workers,” the company said.

Its new entry level “community membership” is designed for the first-timers interested in Remote Year’s curated resources, events and community connections, the company said.

“We’ve pieced together a number of different platforms and technologies to support this one (hub),” Shaun Prime, CEO of Remote Year, told Skift.

3. A Way to Build a Business

Perhaps the strongest proposition, however, is capturing the wandering entrepreneur. Startup Draper House specifically caters to the founders market, and may have the most authentic digital proposition — but it’s not marketing it.

The accommodation startup encourages bookings by touting the hostel infrastructure it has in place to help entrepreneurs connect with investors, and attend workshops. But its founder also told Skift he was surprised by how active its Slack group had become.

“I’ve always wondered, is it possible to create a physical community in parallel with a digital community,” said Vikram Bharati. “It’s a difficult thing to do. What ties you to that digital community?”

Its Slack group already has thousands of members. “People come to the space for a reason, and business is a life-long journey,” he added. “Because we have the ecosystem, people want to be engaged with us.”

It’s a back-to-front approach compared to other travel brands, but one that may work to its advantage as it looks to expand via a franchising model.

A Word of Warning

International travel companies may be embracing new online models, but need to be careful they’re not reinventing the wheel. They’re not the only ones successfully blending the offline with the online.

Other players include Wifi Tribe, which charges an annual membership of $500. Chapter events cost from $1,200 to $2,800, based on the destination, season, and quality of its accommodation.

Nomadbase offers a professional quarterly membership from $30 per month. As expected its online community offers a skill directory, “Nomadbase Academy” content, and a global community chat with business, travel and location channels.

Concerning Remote Year’s new venture, one source familiar with the company’s business model revamp said that it wasn’t anything new.

“Digital nomads don’t work like that, they’re more independent,” he said, preferring to withhold his name. “It’s true some communities exist, but they are used mostly for telling people where they should go next, not so much the whole community feeling.”

He added that Wifi Tribe, for example, had been charging a community membership fee for three years now. “I’m not surprised Remote Year is doing this, it makes sense for them as a business decision. For the digital nomad community in general, and the world, it’s not anything new.”

Another membership platform, Nomadlist, had also been operating for several years, he added. Nomadlist operates as an “Open Startup” which means it is fully transparent and shares metrics like revenue and traffic.

A cursory glance at its revenue chart (below) shows a market that’s expanding rapidly. With a trajectory like that, it’s no wonder travel brands want to gain a foothold in the market.

Sidenotes

The description of corporate travel is being redefined, just take a look at one agency’s bid to use the title “chief journey officer.”

The word “meeting” itself should also be redefined, according to one future of work consultant. “What does meeting mean? With the intentionality of every moment of this hybrid future of work design process, what is intention?” asks Darcy Marie Boles, a culture architect and remote experience designer.

“We need to shift our mindsets to save our workplaces, because our workplaces are falling apart,” she added.

Boles, a former Airbnb exec, was talking as part of meeting platform Hubli’s latest video interview series, where she discussed how to build trust and meaningful relationships when teams meet in person.

She argued that a lot of companies are in transition as they adapt to new remote or hybrid ways of working, and they really should be investing in “redesigning” how people meet. She thinks that the same amount of investment that goes in the “customer journey” when buying an organization’s products should also be invested into the “employee journey” during a period of the Great Resignation.

With so many people dotted around the world, and experiencing so many new things in new locations, she’s urging companies to look at how people feel during every touchpoint when they do actually interact with colleagues, whether asynchronously or in realtime.

10-Second Corporate Travel Catch-Up

Who and what Skift has covered over the past week: Air France, Akasa Air, Bizzabo, Expedia, Hong Kong, Marriott, SAP Concur, SAS, SITA, Spirit Airlines, Star Alliance.

In Brief

Corporate Travel Management Opens Office in Japan

Australia’s Corporate Travel Management has launched CTM Japan, which is a new extension to the global travel management company’s Asian footprint. It joins existing offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Taiwan. The new Tokyo location will meet “increasing customer demand for domestic and international travel in the region,” the company said. Local customers said they wanted on-the-ground servicing from Japanese businesses and international customers operating in the region, said CTM Asia CEO Larry Lo. The expansion follows the acquisition of Singapore’s Safe2Travel  in April 2022.

Startup Travel Platform TripStax Buys TapTrip

TripStax, the online booking tool spun out of corporate travel agency ATPI, has bought TapTrip — another platform that ATPI had previously invested in. TapTrip will become an additional module within the TripStax offering, which already includes travel management applications such as analytics, approvals, content, profile management and tracking. Two of the three TapTrip co-founders, Tom Young and Jack Timblin, are joining TripStax in senior management and development roles. Neil Ruth left the business prior to its acquisition.

Sixt Adds Taxi Platform Jyrney to Its Ride-Hailing App

Mobility platform startup Jyrney has teamed up with Sixt to offer the car rental giant’s customers more access to pre-bookable private hire, taxi and chauffeur-drive options. Sixt’s app already offers on-demand ride-hailing, but the addition of Jyrney will give Sixt’s customers more access to taxis in major cities across the UK. Over the past two years, startup Jyrney has been adding links with established taxi companies, and recently collaborated with Advantage Travel Partnership to launch the Advantage Mobility Hub, which lets Advantage’s corporate travel agency members offer on-demand taxis through a single booking platform.