15 June 2021
Covid-19 and the global lockdown response completely changed the world in which we work and live. Tourism was one of sectors that was hardest hit by the pandemic, with numerous tourism-focused businesses being forced to shut their doors, and many thousands of jobs lost.
As one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Cape Town was massively impacted by the global events of 2020; and the challenges created by widespread lockdown regulations, closed international borders and highly restricted domestic movement have taken a toll on the tourism sector as a whole.
However, while tourism participants across the city have been battered and bruised, they are also emerging from the pandemic stronger, more resilient, more determined to succeed, and far more innovative than ever before. And this innovative thinking is fundamentally changing the face of tourism in the city and region. Not only because such change is imperative for the survival of tourism participants, but also because Covid-19 catalysed a new way of thinking about what tourism can, and should, look like in the future.
One of the key components of this new way of thinking about, and ‘doing’, tourism is a focus on finding creative ways of harnessing the global shift towards remote work.
For many people around the world, the pandemic was an eye opener in terms of just how flexible their working arrangements can be. This understanding extends far beyond merely embracing the ability to work from home.
Millions of people are coming to realise that the work they do can, quite literally, be done from anywhere in the world; and this is driving a growing wave of remote workers who are looking for opportunities to make their living wherever in the world they choose to do so.
In recognition of this significant trend, more than 20 countries have now introduced a form of remote work or digital nomad visa, demonstrating the growing recognition that welcoming remote workers is not only an excellent way to boost tourism and other businesses, but also support the recovery of their economies as a whole.
Cape Town has long been an appealing destination for remote workers, but certainly not at the scale that has been made possible by the new world of work ushered in by the pandemic.
According to Alderman James Vos, City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management, the City is focused on elevating its position as a highly desirable remote work destination as part of its overall tourism recovery strategy.
“In order to drive the recovery of its vital tourism sector, the City of Cape Town has undertaken a six-pillar destination strategy that aims to position Cape Town as a premier African and global destination to visit, live, work, study, play and invest,” Alderman Vos explains.
He points out that a key component of this strategy is embracing new trends and global best practices, and proactively seeking out local, African and global partnership opportunities.
“We recognise that remote work is a potentially massive global trend that has the potential to fundamentally transform and help rebuild our tourism industry, but also deliver a significant and sustainable contribution to long-term economic growth in our city, region and country.”
His view is supported by Jeremy Clayton, Executive Director of The President Hotel and Chairman of the Western Cape chapter of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (FEDHASA).
“Digital nomads were around long before Covid-19, but the pandemic has massively accelerated the trend,” Clayton says, “and while many indicators appear to be pointing to a gradual return to the office in many companies, this is unlikely to be anywhere near the rigid office-based workspace environment that once prevailed. Which means that the remote working trend is set to grow exponentially, and Cape Town is very well positioned to capitalise on this trend and move rapidly up the global rankings – where it currently finds itself at number 42 – to become one of the most sought-after destinations for digital nomads around the world.”
Closer to home, Cape Town’s position as a leading remote working proposition is even stronger.
According to Lisa-Ann Hosking, Tourism Services Manager at Cape Town Tourism, the city is already leading the way in terms of digital remote working across South Africa and, indeed, Africa,” she explains, “and this is mainly thanks to its combination of the appealing and very affordable lifestyle that the city offers, with its extensive array of leisure attractions and activities and the many digitally advanced co-working spaces that already exist here.”
She points out that the city now has a job to do in terms of building on this leadership position by becoming more attuned to the needs and expectations of the burgeoning global digital nomad population. Andrae Smith, Founder and CEO of Work Wanderers, a South African company centred on the digital nomad lifestyle says that doing that requires a collaborative, partnership-based approach to providing a basket of services and facilities that most digital nomads consider vital.
“Nomads want affordability, office facilities, fast and reliable wi-fi, good amenities, adventure and culture and, wherever possible, a sense of community – which can most effectively be achieved through co-living and co-working spaces,” Smith says, “and time zone alignment is also a key consideration for many remote workers, especially those who are employed by companies in their home countries, but are able to travel while working.” She explains that Cape Town’s alignment with the main time zones in Europe and the UK therefore make it especially appealing for digital nomads from those countries, especially when all these other requirements are met.”
Alderman Vos explains that, in addition to the extensive health and safety commitments by all Cape Town’s tourism stakeholders, the City is driving a clearly defined tourism revitalisation strategy, which incorporates all the components that digital nomads require.
“We are actively facilitating a collaborative process to identify the diverse tourism products that appeal to all categories of domestic and international tourists, including remote workers,” he says, “and then supporting tourism providers to adapt their existing facilities and upskill their staff to meet the unique demands of visitors in these categories.”
He points out that, at the same time, the City is leveraging its extensive local and global city-to-city agreements, while investing into its Air Access initiative, with the specific aim of boosting global connectivity and aggressively driving new tourism opportunities.
By ensuring this heightened connectivity, and aligning tourism products and pricing in Cape Town, the city is positioning itself strongly as a highly attractive and very well-priced remote working destination and, in doing so, presenting a very compelling proposition for digital nomads across South Africa, Africa, and the world.
* The City of Cape Town hosted a Remote Work Webinar in partnership with Cape Town Tourism (CTT) and the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa (Fedhasa) on Thursday, 4 June 2021.
Watch the webinar here.