Are digital nomads exploiting the places they visit?

From passport power to pricing, it's time to bust some myths and set the record straight

In my chosen home city of Valencia, there's a real supply problem in the short to midterm rental industry. It's Spain's third-largest city - but can anyone find an apartment?

If you want a few weeks in an Airbnb that's not a problem, but anything longer... forget it. And if you don't have a local employment contract it's very difficult to find a long-term lease as well, due to Spain's archaic occupancy laws, which create huge issues for private landlords. If a tenant stops paying it will take years to get them out, so they want insurance - which can only be issued against a Spanish employment contract, making finding a place almost impossible for remote workers, as well as local self-employed people.

I have seen people have to offer 6 or 12 months rent up front simply to secure a home, get rushed into buying before they were ready, or simply have give up on their Spanish dream. It doesn't bode well for the forthcoming digital nomad visa, if there's no accommodation to meet the surge of demand - though Spain is a big country, and hopefully there will be opportunity elsewhere, away from city hot spots.

So, is this under-supply problem caused by remote workers?

No! It's caused by a complex combination of factors, including the aforementioned occupancy laws, and the fact that anyone owning property in this beautiful city can earn far more renting by the day or week than they ever can through letting the place by the month or year. Huge pent-up demand from holidaymakers is being eagerly met by hunger from those whose tourism incomes were devastated during the pandemic restrictions, to create a boom in occupancy and hence prices. With 5000 properties on Airbnb alone, and their own AIRBTICS analytics suggesting a 2-bedroom apartment in Valencia can make up to €30,732 each year, why on earth would you bother actually giving someone a home?

However, it's not the landlords who get the blame for this mess, nor the lockdown, nor the law. Even tourists get a pass.

Apparently, it's all the nomadic remote worker's fault. Never mind that Airbnb itself revealed the highest percentage of its guests who ever worked at some point (i.e. checked an email) during their Airbnb stay is 20% globally, and their regular digital nomad users are fewer than 10%.

From Barcelona to Bali, that suspicious new wave of travellers who actually stick around a bit longer and spend money, are getting the blame. In Mexico there have even been protests in the street. Is any of this justified?

No, digital nomads and remote workers are not responsible for gentrification, global tourism, and the impact of double-digit inflation.

But do we have an impact on the places we visit? Of course.

It would be ignorant and naive not to acknowledge that, and to examine how this can be mitigated, or turned towards mutually positive outcomes. Being able to work remotely, to work from anywhere, is a tremendous privilege - and it's one that's all too easy to overlook, or simply look away from.

If you're working from your laptop in a beach view coffee shop, what's the difference between you, and that person serving you coffee? Simple accidents of birth, for the most part.

Perhaps you had educational opportunities they never knew about, in a developed economy, not to mention a native language which just happened to be the key to global commercial communications. Somehow you could afford that shiny laptop, when they could not. The passport in your pocket may unlock untold opportunities to wander the world, without anyone asking questions about how you intend to support yourself.

But we all know life isn't fair, and what can you do, except keep ordering enough coffee to justify taking up the table, and leave a big tip at the end? After all, you're probably earning in a much stronger currency than you're paying with in the first place.

That wasn't enough for our podcast guest this week, Tarek Kholoussy. And thanks to his creation of two voluntary programmes, Nomads Giving Back and Nomads Skillshare, it doesn't have to be enough for you either. You can have a positive impact on the places you visit or care about, and use your good fortune to make a difference as you go:

While we don't get to choose where we are born, we do get to make choices as adults. The same opportunities we get to leverage to create location-independent work opportunities and a lifestyle of our dreams, we can use to help share and cascade to those who find them less easily accessible.

Simply learning skills like digital marketing and online communications can give that coffee server new choices, and more direct routes for the profits of global corporations to flow back into local communities, where they will have a direct impact on a greater number of lives.

Because it's undeniable that the work-from-anywhere movement IS having an affect, and some of those traditional local coffee-shops are already being squeezed out by new ones with better WIFI and vegan food and more instagrammable views - that's not going to change, as it's part of an unstoppable shift in global mobility and working trends.

Many local business proprietors will grasp the potential this offers and adapt their offering to match, others will shut up shop and pick up a laptop to join the revolution.

You can do your bit by supporting social impact initiatives like Tarek's, and being mindful of the effect you have on the people and places you interact with - whether you're a digital nomad, a tourist, or taking a stroll around your own neighbourhood.

It feels good to give back, so I invite you to check out the possibilities.

Yours sincerely

Maya Middlemiss