Skift Take

Expect more destinations to develop marketing strategies to convince tourists to stick around much longer — as digital nomads.

As more destinations provide visas specifically for digital nomads, some are using them as an opportunity to discover marketing strategies around convincing tourists to be digital nomads willing to stay longer. Costa Rica became the latest country to embark on this opportunity when it made digital nomad visas available in July.

Under their program, digital nomad visa holders can stay up to three months and then extend their stay for up to two years, according to Costa Rica Minister of Tourism William Rodríguez. They can open a bank account locally, will be exempt from income taxes, use their home country’s driver’s license and pay no import taxes on computers and other remote work equipment.

Once a buzzword, the digital nomad lifestyle, under which remote workers set up shop anywhere around the world to live and work, is now being formally recognized by governments and tourism authorities. In the last month alone, Bali, Portugal and Malaysia have introduced digital visa nomad visas. 

At this early stage, governments don’t concretely know who is becoming a digital nomad, according to Meghan Benton, director of international program at Migration Policy Institute, an independent think tank.“It’s quite baffling how little people know about the profile of their digital nomads,” she said. 

It’s only recently that governments like Costa Rica’s have formally recognized digital nomads. “We know the digital nomad didn’t spontaneously appear after the pandemic,” said Costa Rica Tourism Board Director of Marketing Carolina Trejos. “It already existed. We just didn’t recognize it.”

Countries are trying to figure whether the dominant digital nomad profile is the the transient remote worker going to countries with the best economic deals or the tourist who fell in love with the destination after a visit, chose to stay and work there for the long term, according to Benton. Since the pandemic, the former has become more prevalent.

Costa Rican tourism officials suspect repeat tourists are becoming its digital nomad visa holders. “We don’t have the numbers yet, but we suspect that the main market for us for digital nomads are the ones that have already visited Costa Rica,” said Costa Rica Tourism Board’s Carolina Trejos.

Before the pandemic, tourists often visited Costa Rica as one destination among many in a multi-stop itinerary through Latin America. Tourists now stay in Costa Rica for long periods (14 days on average), make repeat visits and explore more of the country and communities, according to Minister Rodríguez. 

Costa Rican tourism officials want digital nomads of a similar mindset. “We are betting on that same profile to come to Costa Rica,” said Costa Rica Tourism Board’s Trejos.

They must also have pocket money to spend. Applicants have to provide proof of monthly income of $3,000. If the applicant has a family, he or she must have an income of $4,000 per month.

By creating a separate visa category for digital nomads, the destination can gather data to hone its marketing strategies. “What’s your occupation? What do you work for? We can know what state you are coming from. What industry are you coming from?” said Trejos. “As soon as we have a little more information, we can be more specific on how we can promote that.” 

The country of 5 million people wants a slither of the U.S’s. remote worker segment. “Our research says there are 3 million people working in the States from home,” said Minister Rodríguez. “If we can have half of one percent of that, we are done. We are aiming for that number.”

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Tags: costa rica, digital nomads, latin america, remote workers, visas

Photo credit: A remote worker sits on the beach with a suitcase and works while on vacation. Anastasia Nelen / Unsplash

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