Master the new hidden travel networks

The Silk Road and the Spice Road developed over centuries as key trade routes. Now, a hotel expert believes that digital nomads are demonstrating similar new travel patterns that depend on their nationalities. Hospitality businesses have a lot to gain if they can discover them.

Central and South America, in particular, are hotspots for remote workers, according to a senior Selina executive, speaking at the Skift Future of Hosting Forum on Wednesday.

“They are pollinating and moving,” said Sam Khazary, senior vice president of global corporate development. “We have almost discovered these travel routes.”

He cited Panama as an example.

“A lot of people in Israel spend a lot of time on the west coast of Panama. I have no idea why, it’s been like this for the last 35 years. It is what it is, right? There are interesting travel dynamics,” she said during the panel session “How Work and Lifestyle Changes Will Reshape Hospitality.”

Fortunately, two-thirds of Selina’s portfolio is in Central and South America, and Khazary was just one of several leading hoteliers looking to tap into the rich vein of digital nomads.

Under the “Great Merger” subtext of the two-day forum in New York, other experts discussed how the travel industry was reacting to consumers increasingly blending the way they work, socialize and travel.

Corporate spending will return

Search volumes on metasearch website Kayak, for example, revealed longer stays, its CEO and co-founder revealed.

“Traditional corporate travel won’t come back, but spending will,” Steve Hafner told the audience Wednesday. “We want to help transition consumer behaviors.”

The longer stays reflect a resurgence in corporate travel that combines business and leisure travel and Tyler Morse, president and CEO of MCR Hotels, who joined Hafner for the discussion “What’s next for hotels as they move forward to consumer demands” in the forum, noted that 40 percent of Airbnb stays now last longer than 30 days.

This compares with 20 percent in September of last year.

This week, Airbnb also introduced a new split stay feature that allows guests to book trips of a week or more to split trips. However, Morse emphasized that not everyone wants to stay in an Airbnb. “I don’t want to pull a key out from under the kitty litter and find my bed is an air mattress on the floor,” he joked.

However, while he agreed corporate spending would rebound, he believes employers will return to pre-pandemic ways.

Another forum speaker revealed that stays now average 4.5 months in his company’s apartments. And 60 percent of guests end up extending their stay.

“It’s a sticky product,” said Alex Chatzielefttheriou, CEO and co-founder of Blueground. It operates 7,000 apartments but aims to grow to 40,000 by 2025.

Meanwhile, Highgate CEO Arash Azarbarzin also highlighted the so-called bleisure trend in his company’s portfolio.

“We think this summer is going to be the best summer we’ve ever had,” he said, adding that “a recession for the travel business” was not coming.

side notes

There was even talk of boycotting online travel agencies at Skift’s Future of Lodging Forum, when MCR’s Morse argued with Hafner onstage about distribution tactics.

But that may turn out to be unwise advice as new types of travel agencies emerge that specialize in connecting remote workers with suitable hotels.

A Dutch startup, Remote Dream, even managed to get some airtime on Dragons’ Den. It’s a sign of how fast the remote work phenomenon is becoming mainstream.

The online travel agency, which launched in January this year, is aimed at digital nomads and hit screens in the Netherlands on Monday. The founder, Joeri Nanov, made the case for him in front of investors and managed to get a little over $100,000 from two of the dragons.

“It was the biggest day ever for website visitors and bookings,” he said.

Nanov is now thinking about the next step. “We’re starting to build a community, so you can meet other remote workers in those places, which will give you more information about visas and insurance,” he said, which isn’t too different from Hostelworld’s new community app.

“We are trying to be the one stop shop for remote workers,” he added. It relied on travel technology company Impala to help with some of the heavy lifting, as it needed to be bookable without having to integrate with myriad property management systems.

“In the past, it has been difficult for startups to enter the travel market to pay for integrations,” said Caroline Hudack, Impala’s chief marketing officer. “With consumer travel patterns changing so much, there is a real rise in niche online travel agencies.”

He cited other travel websites specializing in hotels that appeal to fans of architecture and one for wedding planners.

“If you look at Airbnb’s filters, that’s generally the way the market is going,” added Hudack, who was previously director of Europe, Middle East and Africa marketing at the home-sharing platform. “It gives hotels the opportunity to connect with new travel sellers.”

Meanwhile, Nanov said it was finalizing another $100,000 investment from a Dutch bank. “We can truly say we are one step closer to helping people get out of the office and work remotely from inspiring locations around the world,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post.

Airbnb said this week that more than 800,000 people have visited its career page after it announced employees could live and work anywhere.

It is a clear sign that there is a huge market ahead for Remote Dream and others.

10 second corporate travel update

Who and what Skift has covered in the past week: Airbnb, Amadeus, Choice Hotels, Cvent, Expedia, Flight Centre, Getaround, Hyatt, IHG, Sabre, Standard International.

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