Business travel updates
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There are plenty of cringeworthy buzzwords for those who don’t like their working lives to be tied to one place. The hashtag-fluent millennials heading for Canggu or Chiang Mai tend to be “digital nomads”, “glomads” or even “techno-gypsies”, while the more sober prefer simply to go with “location-independent”.
Pretentious or not, these descriptions can be applied to a growing number of people. Last year 10.9m Americans described themselves as digital nomads, up 49 per cent on the previous year, according to research by workforce software business MBO Partners. Upwork, a digital platform for freelancers, claims the number of US remote workers will grow to 36.2m by 2025. As someone who recently left a one-bedroom apartment in London for a four-bedroom house on the Kent coast, this prediction doesn’t seem outlandish. A new Dachshund puppy is the only limit to my location-independence — and I still sometimes wonder if I could be writing this somewhere with warmer weather and better surf than Margate.
That itch represents a potential opportunity for a beleaguered business travel industry that saw spending fall 52 per cent last year, according to the Global Business Travel Association, and which is expected to bounce back far more slowly than leisure travel. “There has been a hit to corporate travel spending, but also people spending more time in second or third homes, who might fly to the office,” says Jason Guggenheim, who leads travel and tourism research at the Boston Consulting Group. “We’re already seeing the route between New York and Florida looking more and more like a commute.”
VistaJet, the private jet operator, says the old model of business people wanting rapid return flights between financial centres is being replaced by a more peripatetic blend of work and leisure. “Executives have been asked by their companies to reduce travel, on top of the [pandemic-related] restrictions, so this has meant they take longer stays in destinations,” VistaJet’s Matteo Atti told the FT’s Business of Luxury conference last month. “They place many more meetings in one trip and they often end up mixing work and private time. Working from everywhere is the trend.”
The profile of people heading to far-flung workspaces also seems to be changing. “When we started, we’d just get people from the tech industry,” says Emmanuel Guisset, the founder of Outsite, a series of work-focused “co-living” spaces with six locations in the US and 12 further afield, from Lisbon to Tulum and the latest nomad hotspot of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. “It has spread to creatives and consultants, and now more corporate types with families. We’ve also hosted bankers for the first time during Covid.”
Guisset, a surfer from Belgium who founded Outsite in 2015, says demand has boomed this year. “We’re struggling to meet demand in locations like Oahu and Santa Teresa, and the challenge is that we can’t find new properties fast enough.”
Even the hotel groups that hosted the middle-management conferences that were the backbone of traditional business travel are recognising the trend. In March, Marriott announced details of 17 new long-stay properties across its Element Hotels, Residence Inn by Marriott, and TownePlace Suites brands — all with kitchens and living spaces. Hyatt has launched The Great Relocate, a series of reduced rates for stays of a minimum 29 days, with boardroom usage and “IT concierges” parts of the package.
It’s not all entirely plain sailing. For one thing, Guggenheim says these longer stays remain “on the margins” of the business travel sector, which he says is unlikely to get back to anything like 2019 levels until 2023. There will also be headaches for HR departments trying to grapple with remote employees in countries with different tax laws. Whereas conventional freelance digital nomads can relocate with relative ease, banks such as Citigroup and Credit Suisse have asked employees to return from overseas holiday homes for tax and compliance reasons.
But whichever corporate policies win the day, there’s little doubt that a growing band of increasingly untethered workers is set to change both work and travel. More and more of us might have to admit, perhaps with a grimace, that we are “glomads” now.
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