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I recently happened upon a bizarre thread of tweets in which the author, an incensed biology teacher, outlined in horrendous detail, an experiment exposing her local sushi provider as wantonly having mislabeled fish. Her dramatic story-telling seemed much too theatrical for the high school laboratory findings, but somehow the modern phenomenon of the digital nomad presents a humorous, albeit thought provoking parallel. This is the digital nomad. Thirty-something, sitting cross-legged at a lake or perched atop a hammock; anything but a cityscape, a Google search for ‘digital nomad’ will produce hundreds of iterations of the above, alternating the idyllic landscapes and Zen poses. Self-described travel aficionados, the lifestyle of the digital nomad is an increasingly popular one. Young professionals, whose competence in 21st century service provision like web design and social media marketing affords them mobility, have begun an exodus. But, unlike the Israelites and every other group to whom the gravity of the expression ‘exodus’ has applied, this millennial movement is defined by perpetuity. Unbound by the spatial conventions of a dreary nine to five, thousands have embarked on a fascinating marriage of career and travel that leads them from one locale to the next.

So, why the fish metaphor? After the incalculable decimation that was Hurricane Irma, the British Virgin Islands has found every conversation of social, political or economic import undercut by a sharp declaration, ‘our economy needs diversification!’. Expanding the density and breadth of a market is a national imperative, but in the wake of political promises it is important not to romanticise the unforeseen. The acquisition of new sectors, would logically follow strengthening the twin pillars of finance and tourism that, like Atlas, have borne our horizons. Capturing an entirely new, growing niche of travellers is a glimmering opportunity to do just that. These MacBook toting, latte loving transients may be for us the fish that feeds the family. Or shall they be our white whale? MBO Partners, a corporate resource hub for the self-employed, published a research brief in 2018, citing 4.8 million Americans as selfdescribed digital nomads with a further 17 million aspiring to adopt this professional lifestyle. The appeal of self-employment, coupled with the perceived freedom to experience the planet in its fullness, has garnered the attention of 11% of the respondents who reported plans to enter this fluid market. An even more exciting numerical truth; of the digital nomads responding, one-fifth of them reported annual earnings in excess of $75,000, placing them quite squarely in an upper echelon of economic status. We’re now presented with what seems an opportunity too good to be true. There exist out there vibrant souls seeking adventure, tranquility and unparalleled scenery, the very essence of our marketing campaigns, with quite a bit of cash in hand. Without a doubt, the digital nomad represents a niche worth investigating. With their experience driven desire to explore, the digital nomad engages the economy across a plethora of avenues; a quick dark coffee at Lady Sarah’s Farms or Island Roots, an impromptu water taxi to and photoshoot at the enigmatic Conch Shell

Mounds or a dress shop at UMI for an event on the next stop of their odyssey. This diversity of engagement transcends their purchasing power, as self-employed individuals, this pocket of visitors can target our white sands at any time of year, veering away from our traditional dependence on the ‘tourist season’. The British Virgin Islands could potentially carve off a substantial share of these visitors with a strategic product development strategy, paired with complementary marketing schemes. Clever marketing is about understanding both the wider demographic and the individual. The travelling professional is not only a tourist waiting to be captured, but quite literally a travelling professional. Nomadic work tends to include a modernity of service offerings not entirely native or mainstream to the BVI thus representing a cornucopia of fresh ideas. By capitalising on the movement of skilled professionals through our jurisdiction, we may develop within our economy a mainstay of novel commerce. At the very least, integratory practices could produce an expertise triple down effect. Interestingly, many digital nomads are subscribed to the principle of volunteerism, an amalgamation of leisurely travel and destination charity. While we are far from needing fresh faced youth to cook us hot meals, an open imagination could foresee a plethora of opportunities for the emulation of modern nontangible products. It is critical that as we encounter revolutionary concepts for economic development we remember the fundamental principle of scarcity. In our case, natural resources are consumed as experiences. The British Virgin Islands must maintain interest in the less physically taxing trade of services if we are to preserve our finite beauty. Examining our current focus on the cruise ship passenger, we must guard against being lulled into the downsides to shopping wholesale, so to speak, for our tourists. Theoretically, the island of Virgin Gorda would be better served environmentally by

digital nomads who would self excurse and explore in smaller numbers more sites than just the overtrafficked Baths. Abandoning for a moment the perspective of tourism, this concept is rich as a venture with commercial ramifications. On the more general scale of the domestic market, digital nomads represent a refreshing take on imported labour that is antithetical to our norm. Instead of workers who represent a production cost but then spend a significant portion extra-nationally thus breaking a healthy financial cycle, we would have workers who are not paid by local entities but spend their money in our markets. Furthermore, the transience of digital nomads would constitute human capital that doesn’t pressure our subsidised public sector services. For the innovative entrepreneur the digital nomad is an opportunity. Contrary to the cross-legged adventurer depicted above, many travelling professionals require some semblance of an office environment. Any craftsman in the realm of the visual, architecture or video-editing for example, might prefer a large monitor which they naturally would be unable to carry. This, as well as individual cubicles, high speed internet and meeting rooms could all be functions of entrepreneurial support hubs that charge digital nomads to utilise their space. In principle this is not nearly as alien to our domestic landscape as it sounds. Harneys, among the largest private employers in the British Virgin Islands, is a member of what is termed the magic circle of law firms. Essentially it, and many other law and trust agencies, cater to patronage across the globe. It goes without saying that local clientele are not the bread and butter of many of the larger law firms in our Territory. Globalisation, hand in hand with technological strides, has torn down the physicality of trade. Here it stands an alluring picture of a niche market, unfamiliar and yet not so much so, and chock full of potential. So we swing our hooks, yes? Well…



Profile for Business BVI

Business BVI July 2019  

The theme for the July 2019 edition is ‘A View Beyond the Horizon’, which is intended to reflect where the territory is post 2017, while at...

Business BVI July 2019  

The theme for the July 2019 edition is ‘A View Beyond the Horizon’, which is intended to reflect where the territory is post 2017, while at...