Skift Take

Americans, Germans, Cypriots and Brits are descending on a small mountain town for the week-long Bansko Nomad Fest. Here's why.

Series: Future of Work

Future of Work

As organizations start to embrace distributed work and virtual meetings, the corporate travel and meetings sectors are preparing for change. Read Skift’s ongoing coverage of this shift in business travel behavior through the lens of both brands and consumers.

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A festival in an Eastern European mountain town gives us a clue as to which nations are producing digital nomads, or at least in that region of the world.

The week-long Bansko Nomad Fest is currently taking place in the small town located in south-west Bulgaria. The area’s better known by skiers for its affordable pistes and powder, but this event has been running for three years and is now hosting 500 digital nomads from 41 different countries.

The festival organizers shared a breakdown (below) of the nationalities attending, and Americans make up the biggest proportion.

Picture: Bansko Nomad Fest
Picture: Bansko Nomad Fest

For a country that’s wary of traveling to Europe due to concerns about the war in Ukraine, it’s surprising. After all, Bulgaria is just one country away from the war-torn nation, with Romania sitting in between.

But organizers said some U.S. citizens were already staying in Europe, and others couldn’t visit Europe due to Covid for a long time, so couldn’t wait to get over.

But the fact is that digital nomads from the U.S. tend to represent the lion’s share of globetrotting workers in Eastern Europe, compared to other nations. Most digital nomads come from high income countries with strong passports, and the U.S. clearly has the highest population.

At the festival, which runs until July 3, they are also mostly entrepreneurs and have their own companies, rather than remote workers.

But we’ll stop the generalizations there. As the organziers told Skift: “Every one of them has a different story.”

Picture: Bansko Nomad Fest
Picture: Bansko Nomad Fest

The festival includes activities like hiking, rafting, mountain biking, speed dating and wine tours, but it’s also corralled together 70 speakers for conference talks, workshops, and presentations.

They’ll be discussing everything from video production and Web3 to co-living tips and sharing, understandably, what digital nomad life is like during the war in Ukraine.

Sidenotes

Luxury travel and experiences outfit Inspirato is positioning its latest subscription product, called Select, as a tactic companies can use to gain an edge when hiring, as well as an employee performance reward.

Here’s how it works: Inspirato will allow a company to co-brand its platform, so it can let its employees pick a dreamy vacation, without seeing the price tag; think a stay in a British Virgin Islands ocean-view villa, or five-star penthouse in New York City.

In return, Inspirato charges the company for the employee subscriptions. Select currently allows subscribers to pick three trips from a list of more than 500,000 for an annual fee of $24,000, plus a $2,000 enrollment fee. The new Select product is the “building block” for a new “Inspirato for Business” platform, according to the company’s president.

It launches soon, and could turn the traditional notion of the corporate travel subscription on its head. Most travel brands, including Airbnb, Selina and CitizenM, talk up the opportunities of intertwining remote work with hospitality, but Inspirato thinks its new business package could be a secret weapon  for companies when hiring staff.

“Globally, there are really big challenges on recruiting,” said David Kallery. “We have a number of subscribers that are using this as a recruiting tool. They’re telling the employee, I’m going to hire you for this, I’ll give you a sign-on bonus, and an Inspirato trip anytime over the next year.”

The company teased out a few details of Select back in May. In the future, Inspirato for Business would also offer perks to incentivize staff, as well as exorbitantly priced getaways to potential employees.

Kallery said Inspirato had been experimenting with this idea for a few years, following interest from a “mystery software firm.” He shed more light on that, describing it as one of the world’s biggest customer relationship management platforms. It’s already spending about two million dollars a year on treating employees to luxury vacations, he claimed.

“It’s so different to what a prospective employee would be asking for,” he added. “It really seems to be resonating.” Inspirato is also in “active conversations” with two other enterprise companies that have between 25,000 and 40,000 employes.

(Not) All the President’s Men

The software firm was an “awesome partner” in helping Inspirato scale its business itself, Kallery said, and then became its customer. He wants to replicate this, and said existing Inspirato members, including the owner of a large car dealership, were approaching the company to offer the scheme to their own staff as a perk.

He thinks the new platform could even replace “President’s Clubs” — where top performers are treated to a company vacation.

“We happen to think those individual trips are powerful, because you can orient them with your family, rather than your colleagues,” Kallery said. “From the research we’ve done, that’s really what the recipients of these rewards want. They’d rather go with their spouse and their children than the three buddies they see everyday at work.”

Inspirato has had a rough ride since its SPAC-fuelled listing in February this year. It secured more than $100 million in net proceeds, but since then has seen its share price halve.

Kallery wants Inspirato to have the same power as a Four Seasons for consumers. But one roadblock, for those who may not have heard of the luxury-focused Inspirato is whether the brand will resonate with candidates who aren’t already members of the jet-setting elite.

10-Second Corporate Travel Catch-Up

Who and what Skift has covered over the past week: Accor, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Amadeus, AvantStay, Deutsch Bahn, Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa, Microsoft, Qantas, TravelPerk, Uber for Business.

In Brief

Nomad Travel Specialist Makes Second Acquisition

Staying with Europe, there are already signs of consolidation in the digital nomad space, as Flatio, which describes itself as the Czech Republic’s “Airbnb for monthly stays” has bought French startup Floasis (Skift covered it briefly back in June last year.)

The purchase of Floasis, a housing provider for remote workers (terms of the sale were not disclosed, but it was based on combination of cash and future revenues) follows Flatio’s acquisition of assets belonging to NomadX in 2020. The Czech company said it wants to continue expanding into the rapidly growing digital nomad space.

Floasis was set up in 2020 by Lola Casamitjana and Kristina Kutan to make it easier for remote workers to find places to live and work abroad, though mainly in Europe, and offers fairly unique and quirky listings, including castles and farms. As part of the deal, Flatio will integrate Floasis’s 236 listings into its platform and plans to onboard another 1,290.

Before the pandemic, Flatio operated mainly in the Czech Republic and Hungary, catering to students, professionals, and medical travellers. However, the company has since shifted focus to digital nomads and remote workers.

CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated Flatio acquired NomadX, based on misinformation provided by Flatio.

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Tags: bulgaria, business travel, corporate travel, digital nomads, Future of Work Briefing, inspirato, luxury, membership clubs, retreats, subscriptions