July 14, 2021 Sujeev Shakya

Digital nomads

Can Nepal compete in attracting this new segment of visitors?

In these times, it is not difficult to spot people working out of cafes in Kathmandu or Kigali who have made it their virtual office for the work they are doing remotely. I have chatted with people who are working out of Kathmandu for jobs in Myanmar—and one operating out of Kigali for a Swiss pharmaceutical company. These people have one thing in common: they love travelling and would like to set up their base in a city and country where they can find people with common interests. There are more Facebook pages that are catering to this segment than ever before, as people search to hear from others who are working remotely.

The office is where you open your device

These are the new breed of digital nomads, who believe in virtual workplaces in a city they love to spend time in. This is not a new phenomenon but has exploded in recent times, as virtual offices become the new normal globally. When high-speed internet connection started in Ubud, Bali, many people started to flock to this city; there are many such cities in different parts of the world that can deliver affordability, great quality of life, and a network with a similar set of people.

With great platforms to connect virtually innovating at a great pace, not only physical offices but the requirement to be in the same city or country of your job or work is becoming less relevant. Having personally been travelling during this pandemic, when the meetings are generally virtual it does not really matter from where you take a call or manage the office. The only key thing to bear in mind is the time zone—one should be ready to join meetings at odd hours. So, if you are willing to take that occasional 3 am or 1 am call without bothering your sleep routine, then you can fit into this new normal. People have been doing personal, social or family calls at hours they never used to communicate earlier. The same mindset just needs an extension towards work calls. The new workplace is the place where you open your computer, tablet or smartphone to connect.

Apart from work, these people connect with people with similar interests and would like to spend time together—be it hiking, cycling, travelling to different countries or just setting up pop-up kitchens to showcase their food and have some fun. The digital nomads do bring back the days of the ‘hippie’ tourists in Nepal, where people from different parts of the world converged in the back alleys of Kathmandu and found their ways to a different part of Nepal. Some of them stayed back to start ventures and some of them continued to visit the country for many more decades.

The competition is strong

Countries like Estonia have had some pioneering e-residency programmes for people in the startup world. Since August 2020, the country has launched a special digital nomad visa that allows people to stay for one year. Croatia has followed suit. In October 2020, Dubai also launched its own virtual working programme where people could get visas to come and work remotely out of the UAE.

Mexico has attracted a lot of digital nomads from the US and Canada. Cities like Tulum on the Caribbean coast is rated as one of the favourite spots by digital nomads. There are specialised companies that are emerging and groups like Selina are putting in more money to build hotel rooms for this segment. In Rwanda, the government is already working on a program that will allow people to get work permits, attracting a new segment of visitors and boosting the economy that has been impacted by the pandemic.

Nepal has all the right ingredients to attract the digital nomad. It has many spots of great scenic beauty. There are many great places where one can just open one’s gadgets, log in and start to work. The internet connection is good, particularly in the last few years. There is enough for people to do in terms of exploring nature. And, of course, there are places for fun, food and music.

Air connectivity through Dubai, Doha and Istanbul airports that have remained open in the last year; this provides easy, one-stop connections to Nepal. And Nepal is located in a spot that makes it possible to deal with timezones across the world—from Japan to the US. The tourism sector that has suffered during the last year may find respite by attracting this new segment. The government only needs to do one thing, and that is to introduce a one-year work visa for such digital nomads and ensure that the security check on people and their tracking is well in place. Every challenge throws in an opportunity. As a digital nomad working for a company based in Kathmandu out of beautiful spots in Rwanda for clients in East Asia and the US, I cannot but vouch for its potential. It is upto the Nepali entrepreneurs and the government to make it happen.