EU health agency warns against visiting popular Greek islands over COVID-19
Attracted by the sun, the sea and fast Wi-Fi, remote workers converge on Europe’s southernmost islands to try and “work” before employers order them back to the office, offering thus a welcome windfall for tourist companies in difficulty, write Clara-laeila Laudette and Corina Pons.
Olga Paul, 34, arrived on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria in May to work remotely for the first time, after months of a pandemic locked in her Munich apartment, where she is a business analyst for one of the largest German car manufacturers.
“I think I’m more productive now,” she said, delighted at the sea view from her rooftop, where she’ll take breaks. “I can concentrate on my work and explore the islands on the weekends … it feels good.”
Combining vacation destinations with remote working is a growing trend in Spain and Portugal’s sunniest archipelagos, as travel bans ease and the hungry tourism industry offers discounted stays and dedicated workspaces.
“We have certainly seen a growth in the ‘Digital Nomads’ category, (which) has been important for the tourism industry during the pandemic as it has contributed to long stays and local economies,” said Jennifer Iduh, responsible for research at the European Union Tourism Organization.
Remote workers check in as tourists, making them hard to quantify, but evidence of their presence is everywhere, from new co-working spaces to stickers announcing free and extra-powerful Wi-Fi throughout. many restaurants, cafes and bars.
However, the influx is only a slight relief for the tourism-dependent islands: arrivals from Spain in the first half of the year were still only a third of the 10 million in the same period of 2019.
Yet local associations in the Canary Islands or Madeira in Portugal have said the number of people coming to work remotely has increased, even during the most expensive peak season.
The “Nomad List” website counted the Canary Island of Tenerife among the 10 fastest growing telecommuting destinations in the first seven months of 2021, after the trend started last year.
“This (last) summer I could see more and more people starting to come, not for vacation or to live permanently but to work for six weeks, two months, three months,” said Nele Boesmans , a Belgian from Fuerteventura, the second largest of the Canary Islands.
Membership of the Facebook group “Digital Nomads Fuerteventura” Boesmans quintupled during the pandemic.
Airlines and rental sites have said bookings from mainland Europe, which increased last summer, are now increasing.
Flights to the Canary Islands increased 88% between April and July this year compared to the same period in 2020, low-cost carrier Ryanair said, while reservations for Tenerife have doubled.
The trend is expected to continue, a spokeswoman for Ryanair said, noting that June sales of one-way tickets to the Canaries were up 32% from May and 74% from June 2020.
Requests for rentals of more than 15 days in the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands and Madeira increased by 51% last summer, according to the property portal Idealista, which predicted that bookings would keep pace in 2021.
“I call them corporate nomads,” said Ignacio Rodriguez, who chairs a Canarian association of co-working spaces and has seen a particular boom in temporary teleworkers, most of them from France.
Around 8,000 remote workers came in the first half of this year, the Canary Islands tourist office estimated, and another 30,000 are expected over the next 5 years.
In Madeira, authorities have set up an office to advise remote workers, awaiting 500 requests – but receiving 8,000 since February.
“Hotel managers didn’t know remote workers, but now the word is so common to them,” said Micaela Vieira, manager of the “Digital Nomad” project in Madeira.
In the windswept north of Fuerteventura, the local council of La Oliva carried out such an effective campaign that the small fishing village of El Cotillo received enough remote workers to justify a new co-working space called COCO .
The Italo-Colombian surfer Matteo Leoni created COCO after noticing a tourist influx that neither he nor the inhabitants of El Cotillo had ever seen.
“They were people aged 25 to 45, working remotely, coming from Madrid, Paris, Rome, Milan, who were like: ‘Why not work in a warmer place?'” Leoni said. “In the Canaries there is so much space that social distancing is a given.”
COCO will open in mid-September, with Leoni hoping that 8-10 permanent subscribers will take advantage of its relaxation areas, garden, café and acoustically isolated cabins.
Spanish airline Iberia has launched a 10% discount for those who want to make the most of the last possible months of working remotely from a temporary roost in the Canary Islands.
Hotel chains Melia and Vincci are offering discounted packages for remote workers wishing to stay for several weeks, with Melia’s campaign called “Work in Heaven”.
“Since the end of the state of emergency (in Spain) and the start of mobility between regions, the service is increasingly in demand,” Vincci said in an email.
Croatia and Greece have also jumped on the bandwagon, developing special visas for sun-hungry remote workers, with Croatia touting its idyllic landscapes as “Your New Office” in its promotional campaign. Read more
And about 3,500 people signed up for Dubai‘s Virtual Working program this year, mostly visitors from the UK, America and India, said Issam Kazim, managing director of Dubai’s Tourism and Commerce Corporation. Read more.
“The average occupancy rate in Dubai in 1-5 star properties is approaching 60% … strongly supported by apartments … suggesting that people are looking for long term options, consistent with the choice to work in ‘here,’ Kazim added.
Whether the trend will survive this fall’s back-to-school wave of warrants is another question, especially given the success of vaccination campaigns in some areas.
Some, however, hope to return to the islands – or perhaps just stay.
“Everyone I’ve met trying it out absolutely loves it,” said Alexander Swanton, an American freelance writer who surfs in his spare time in Gran Canaria, where he settled after quitting a job in the insurance last October.
Joao Santos is also not ready to give up his beach trips after work. “I’m not going to have to go back to an office anytime soon,” promised the Portuguese web developer working remotely in Madeira for the first time.