Coronavirus travel revolution: New generation of island workers to ditch typical holidays

Since the Government announced its first batch of travel corridors at the beginning of July, six countries have been added but 14 have been removed, including Spain, France, Croatia, Austria, Malta, Belgium and the Netherlands. The list is reviewed every Thursday, with the UK’s quarantine threshold placed at 20 per 100,000 residents over a one-week period. Czech Republic, Switzerland and Iceland are said to be edging closer to joining that list this week.

But, while the health implications of COVID-19 are clear to see, there is a deeper problem created by the sudden lack of tourism across-the world, sustainability expert James Ellsmoor has told

Mr Ellsmoor, who founded the Virtual Island Summit – a free and entirely online event designed to connect global islands to share their common issues – says there could be long-standing changes.

He said: “The biggest problem for islanders is the pandemic, not only from a health standpoint, but an economic one as tourist-dependent economies face devastation.

“Last year we were very much focused on climate change and environmental issues and, of course, those issues will still be coming up this year.

“But when and if tourism restarts, what will that look like and how is that going to change the reality?

“Barbados launched a programme earlier this year that got a lot of press – a lot of islands are now accepting that the one or two week holiday is gone for a while, so they are trying to attract this new generation of remote workers by allowing visas that will let people stay for six months or a year.

“If you’re working from home, why not be in Barbados?”

Mr Ellsmoor, who has worked and travelled in over 60 countries, consulting government leaders and the private sector on topics relating to sustainable development and climate change, believes others will follow suit.

He added: “There are three countries – that I know – who have done it already, that’s Barbados, Bermuda and Estonia, but there’s been a lot of talk from other islands about doing something similar.

“There have been long-standing projects on the Outer Hebrides in Scotland to encourage people who can work remotely to move there and live there.

“You have a low cost of living, bilingual education and a beautiful location with a decent Internet speed now as well.

“Other islands have now woken up to the opportunity because of this tourism shock, but I think actually there has been a longer underlying theme.

“It’s an opportunity because you get people who will come to live and study locally, pay taxes and put their kids into school – it’s much more economically sustainable than high-volume tourism.”

Mr Ellsmoor describes himself as a digital nomad – someone who uses technology to earn a living, often remotely in foreign countries.

While he has been living this lifestyle for a number of years, Mr Ellsmoor thinks the pandemic could accelerate opportunities for more people to travel and work at the same time.

He added: “From my perspective, I’ve already been doing this for the last five years – I started my business remotely and have a whole team that works the same way.

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“I had been living in South America until the pandemic forced me to return to the UK because it was cheaper with a higher quality of life.

“I was part of a community of people who call themselves digital nomads – working online and taking opportunities.

“A lot of people wanted to do that, but actually getting a job that allows you to do that is harder.

“Now we are seeing a lot of companies are not going to reopen their offices, so more jobs can be done remotely.”

Mr Ellsmoor believes there could be a huge shift in the future, with people ditching high-rent cities for a tranquil home office – at least for some times of year.

He continued: “It’s not like people will be trying to hold down a full-time job while backpacking through Thailand, but maybe renting somewhere in a much cheaper country with a beautiful landscape for the medium term, why not?

“I think we will see a lot of that in the future.

“Beautiful weather, great food and a decent Internet connection – it makes sense.

“Bermuda, Barbados and Estonia have aimed the project at people coming to stay for six months to a year, with the assumption that people would relocate semi-permanently – but that’s aimed more at families.

“There are many countries where you can stay as a British citizen without a visa for three months, so a lot of people will use that to stay for a few months and hop around, you don’t need to take the time off work to travel now – you can have the best of both worlds.”

The Virtual Island Summit 2020, hosted by Island Innovation, will kick off on Monday, September 7, and will see a diverse range of views from 10,000 people attending from more than 250 island communities including in the Arctic, Caribbean, Europe, Indian Ocean, Pacific Islands, South America and beyond.

It is free to register and speakers range from community leaders to the Prime Minister of Fiji and the Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse.

The Summit uses modern technology to maximise opportunities for participation and minimise harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

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