Should your community welcome digital nomads – people who work remotely, allowing them to bounce freely from country to country?
Our research found that workers are eager to enjoy the flexibility of not being tied to a desk. And after suffering economic losses from the Covid-19 pandemic, cities and countries are concocting ways to attract visitors. One idea is to broaden the meaning of tourism to include remote workers.
Today, an increasing number of countries offer “digital nomad visas”. These visas allow longer stays for remote workers and clarify permitted work activities.
For example, officials in Bali, Indonesia, are seeking to formalize a process for remote workers to obtain visas – “the sooner the better”, as the head of the Bali tourism agency has put it. the island.
Yet the pushback from residents of cities ranging from Barcelona to Mexico City made it clear that there are costs and benefits associated with an influx of remote workers.
As we explain in our new book, Digital Nomads: Seeking Freedom, Community, and Meaningful Work in the New Economythe trend of “work tourism” comes with a host of downsides.
Carrying their welcome
Since there is tourism, locals don’t care about foreigners coming and going. These travelers are generally a welcome boost to the economy – up to a point. They can also use their welcome.
The classic example is perhaps Venice, where the high number of tourists highlights the fragility of the city’s canal-filled infrastructure.
In the United States, Jersey Shore residents have long used the term “shoobies” to denigrate the annual crowd of short-term summer tourists. In our research on digital nomads in Bali, locals referred to digital nomads and other tourists as “bules” – a word that roughly translates to “outsiders.”
Generally, the terms are used to express minor annoyance with crowds and increased traffic. But conventional tourists come and go – their stays usually range from a few nights to a few weeks.
Remote workers stay from a few weeks to several months or even longer. They spend more time using places and resources traditionally dedicated to local residents. This increases the chances of strangers becoming a creaky presence.
Excessive visitor numbers can also raise sustainability issues, as waves of tourists tax the environment and infrastructure of many destinations. Many of Bali’s beautiful rice paddies and surrounding lush forests, for example, are being converted into hotels and villas to serve tourism.
Digital nomads are looking to stretch their dollars
Whether they’re lounging around or plugging in their laptops, privileged tourists ultimately change a region’s economy and demographics.
Their purchasing power drives up costs and displaces residents, while traditional establishments give way to new businesses that cater to their tastes. Where there was once a neighborhood food stand, there is now an upscale cafe.
This dynamic is only exacerbated by long-term tourists. Services like VRBO and Airbnb make it easy for digital nomads to rent apartments for weeks or months at a time, and people around the world are increasingly alarmed at how quickly these rentals can change affordability and the character of a place.
Living a long-term vacation lifestyle means choosing low-cost destinations. This means that remote workers can particularly contribute to gentrification when they look for places where their money goes the furthest.
In Mexico City, residents fear being displaced by remote workers able to pay higher rents. In response to calls to choose Mexico City as a remote work destination, one local succinctly expressed his opposition: “Please don’t.”
And in New Orleans, nearly half of all properties in historic Tremé — one of the oldest black neighborhoods in the United States — have been converted to short-term rentals, displacing longtime residents.
Culture is commodified
Neocolonialism in tourism refers to how processes such as overtourism and gentrification create an imbalance of power that favors newcomers and erodes local ways of life.
“There’s a distinction between people who want to know more about where they are and people who just like it because it’s cheap,” a digital nomad living in Mexico City told Los Angeles recently. Times. “I’ve met a number of people who don’t really care about being in Mexico, they just care that it’s cheap.”
Bali, where it is estimated that up to 80% of the island’s economy is affected by tourism, offers a striking example.
People come to Bali to immerse themselves in the spiritual rituals, art, nature and dance of the culture. But there is also resentment towards yoga enthusiasts, vacationers and digital nomads who are “taking over” the island.
And some locals are coming to see tourism in and around temples and rituals as turning something valuable – the nuanced and spiritual aspects of their culture – into experiences to buy and sell.
Balinese dance performances are a huge draw for tourists and even feature in worldwide tourism promotions on the island. Yet the impact of tourism on these aspects of the dance is debated, even among performers.
So there is inevitably friction, which results in high levels of petty crime against foreigners. Neocolonialism can also oppose people from the same country or the same culture. For example, conflicts arise between local Balinese taxi cooperatives and taxi services that employ drivers from other parts of Indonesia.
While remote employees still make up a small portion of the overall tourist population, their work-related needs and longer stays mean they are more likely to use services and places frequented by locals.
Whether this leads to digital nomads being welcomed or despised likely depends on both government policies and tourist behavior.
Will governments take measures such as protecting residents from mass evictions, or will landlords’ desire to raise rents prevail? Will the guests live lightly and blend in, trying to learn the local language and culture? Or will they just focus on working hard and playing harder?
As remote work reaches unprecedented scale, the answers to these questions may determine whether the “faster is better” attitude towards digital nomad visas and other incentives continues.
Rachael A. Woldoff is a professor of sociology at West Virginia University and Robert Litchfield is an associate professor of business at Washington & Jefferson College.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.