It was only a matter of time before tourism caught up with the hype over non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, and join the worlds of art and sport. And digital nomads will be at the heart of it all. Just ask Olumide Gbenro.
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An entrepreneur is picking himself back up after miscalculating the investment, and interest, needed to build an eco-lodge on a remote island in Indonesia.
Olumide Gbenro originally planned to sell 5,000 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) at around $500 each to fund the development of a resort designed to cater to remote workers, digital nomads and “location independent investors.” The tokens would have acted as life-time access passes to the private retreat, with accommodation and food pricing levels to be set by the new community.
It’s a relatively new and highly unconventional way of raising cash, and Gbenro made just $65,000. However, he has now relaunched the project, scaling it down tenfold, and remains convinced the wider travel industry will ultimately benefit from the NFT craze.
Is It Tourism’s Turn?
NFTs are becoming popular in the art world, as well as sport. Each token is a unique, digital collectible item stored on a blockchain. It’s different to cryptocurrency because each one has a unique identifying code. When you buy one, there is a permanent record of ownership and digital evidence of its provenance.
The National Basketball Association uses them to sell trading cards via its NBA Top Shot platform, while some football clubs, including Manchester City, sell tokens to fans. They can also be traded after their purchase, on marketplaces like OpenSea and Rarible.
While one luxury hotel in Venice is using NFTs to auction a night’s stay, they’re not commonly used in the travel industry. Gbenro believes his attempt is the first.
“I haven’t seen anyone do it in this way. There’s no blueprint, that’s why I messed up,” he said. “It was tough. It kind of failed, or didn’t do so well. I wanted to run away and say forget this, but people in my circle say I couldn’t do that, let’s figure out another way.”
In essence, Bali-based Gbenro is using NFTs to crowdsource the resort’s development, and for his second attempt he aims to sell 500 NFTs, at about $2,500 each, raising $1.25 million to develop Nomada on Buka Buka, in partnership with local developer Thomas Despin, among others. “I realized that for an island, it’s not very smart to send 5,000 people there,” he added.
He also has a second project called the Wealthy Island Penguin Club in place, a remnant of the original initiative, for which he still plans to sell 5,000 NFTs, but to a different audience of people in the NFT and cryptocurrency communities. This would act as a more of a “business club” and eventually tie in with access to Nomada.
Gbenro is no stranger to the travel industry, having founded Digital Nomad Week and other events, while he also contributed to lobbying efforts for a digital nomad visa for the country. He’s confident that if he can make Nomada work he’ll be proving the case for a “new model for distributed living” — but acknowledges it will take time.
“It could take a few months or a couple of years to actually achieve the dream, that’s OK. That’s why I’m back and relaunching,” he said. He also thinks that the bigger hospitality brands should consider NFTs to attract younger audiences.
“These corporate companies are stuck in their old ways,” he said. “I don’t know what they’re doing to say ‘let’s adjust to the future’ because we know tourism has changed. It will be never be the same again. People aren’t just going to show up and say ‘I want to see the sights.’ Hotels and travel agencies need to start catering to people who move around constantly, and cater to their needs.”
While cryptocurrency is perceived by many to be the Wild West of payments, the newer technology and marketplaces surrounding NFTs have an image problem. Many schemes appear laden with high risk, or are promoted by celebrities, and there are questions over how serious a long-term investment an NFT actually is. But among the get-rich-quick scams, there are some “names” that are helping NFTs get taken more seriously.
Gbenro said some of entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s projects highlight the practicality of NFTs, where tokens can give owners access to exclusive events. He has reportedly made tens of millions of dollars “minting” tokens. “If people are showing up to a conference with a token we’re halfway there,” Gbenro said.
Traditional hotel brands should consider NFTs in a similar vein and create subscription passes or special loyalty cards for guests, or use them to offer perks, and at the same time raise equity, Gbenro added. According to one report, 84 percent of investors would consider buying a luxury holiday experience as an NFT to either use, or sell, when tourism picked up. “They could launch an NFT project, generate millions of dollars with their reputable brand. They could send it to their email list. I don’t know why they’re not doing it,” he said.
For now, expect to see brands on the fringes strike up more hospitality-technology based alliances, like Vietnam’s Crystal Bay and Beowulf Blockchain, and carry on with the experiments. In the current climate, the pace of digitization in the tourism industry won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Like pristine Indonesian islands, nothing’s going to be off-limits for remote workers in the future.
Speaking at Skift’s Design the Future event last week, we discovered how a photography museum was attracting people on the lookout for quiet spaces to Zoom. Fotografiska merged with collaborative workspace provider NeueHouse in March this year, and it opens up three museum venues across Stockholm, New York, and Tallinn
“We’re thinking about a work space and social space in a museum … it’s been a fascinating journey and design is at the core of it,” said Jon Goss, its chief brand officer, during the online event.
With places and spaces up for new kinds of interpretation, design should be more important than ever. So I’ve a few questions around how a workspace in a train station, next to a shop, can work exactly.
Accor’s co-working brand Wojo has opened a space next to a Relay store in Annemasse, eastern France. It may not be as quiet or stylish as a museum, but then for the remote worker needing to zap into Geneva it’s ticking all the function boxes. And the beauty of being in the same building as a newsagents is you’re unlikely to run out of pens.
Speaking at the Skift Live event, Glos raised an interesting point that Zoom accelerated how much noise we have to deal with, no doubt an issue for a museum. So there was talk of an alliance with Design Hotels, so NeueHouse members can access the luxury hotel collective’s vast range of properties to find a different spot to work from.
There are already plenty of third parties stepping in and joining the dots between different luxury and lifestyle hotels that can offer co-working spaces, but there’s a strong case for hotels to put aside rivalries and partner with like-minded properties.
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The Future of Work Briefing won’t be published over the festive period — but we’ll be back after the New Year on January 7.
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