After an appeal from the regional government last year for teleworkers to choose the Canary Islands, more than 8,000 ‘digital nomads’ have settled there. The government’s underlying motive was to mitigate the collapse of tourism.
34-year-old Sonia Amroun is a Parisian entrepreneur. The commercial manager of a French startup, she packed her bags in December to escape the bad weather and lockdown in France. The plan was to stay there for a month. After getting to know the island of La Palma better, she decided to stay and make her work compatible with the management of a rural hotel.
“The idea that smart brains have to live a stressful life in a big city to build a successful career is over,” said Sonia via a video conference with Canariasnoticias.es. “I work twelve hours, seven days a week. But I’m watching the mountains and I am happy. La Palma is my dream come true”.
The island’s tourism industry is withering as in other regions of Spain. Empty streets dominate the main centres with less than 40% of the approximately 170,000 beds available. The archipelago is already the autonomous community with the most unemployment. As a result, practically all economic and political actors warn of an explosive social situation in the short term.
While health authorities are busy vaccinating, teleworking has become a lifeline for many entrepreneurs. The professionals who come to the islands as digital nomads usually have greater purchasing power than the average tourist. They also spend more, without the impact of mass tourism on the community.
The arrival of these types of employees increased by 10% per month since September last year. Following that, the Canary Islands government announced it would spend €500,000 on mainly marketing and training campaigns – to attract some 30,000 professionals in ten years.
Teleworkers mainly Europe
The estimated 8,000 teleworkers on the islands mainly come from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and increasingly the United States.
For 22-year-old Tracy Keogh, this is a game changer. She is not just an Irish teleworker who chose the Canary Islands in times of coronavirus. She is the co-founder of Grow Remote, an Irish startup backed by the Irish government. The company seeks to connect companies with remote workers from all over the world. “It’s no longer just about freelancers who decide to travel. It is a paradigm shift, a new way of working”.
Among other things, Juan Betancor manages 16 beachfront homes and says: “Until last year, 5% to 10% of rents came from teleworkers. Since October these represent 90%. The rental is no longer as profitable as it used to be: a tourist paid €900 or €1,000 per week, while teleworkers barely €1,400 per month.
New type of employment
Now it is no longer just about attracting the professionals. Cosme García Falcón is director of Spegc, a promotional body under the regional government that attracts digital nomads to Gran Canaria on behalf of the government. “On this island alone, there are 12 digital animation and post-production companies,” he explains.
Opportunities for local workers
According to his data, the employment generated by this type of business has nearly tripled in just two years, allowing local talent to enter the market as well. The organisation recently published the guide ‘How to settle in Gran Canaria’ in English and Spanish. The guide explains everything from procedures to advice and solutions to the common problems families may face with relocation projects.
The growing arrival of teleworkers aroused the interest of entrepreneurs to provide specific services. “Especially with regard to cooperative living and working together,” explains Ignacio Rodríguez, businessman and executive member of the World Teleworking Association. For example, more and more co-workspots are being set up where teleworkers share the same workspace and therefore the costs. Living groups, in which living space and experiences can be shared, are also enjoying increasing interest.
Initiative ‘Remote Villages’
Not everything revolves around the cities on the islands. Sonia Amroun has found happiness in a coastal town of La Palma with only 21,000 inhabitants. Like her, two Tenerife entrepreneurs, Carlos Jonay Suárez and Elsa Rodríguez, tried to attract remote workers to the countryside with the Remote Villages initiative. “We want to connect rural environments with teleworkers, local actors and entrepreneurs with each other and try to generate socio-economic benefits with minimal negative impact”.
The first project takes place in Icod de los Vinos (north Tenerife). The goal is to get ten people from all over the world to telecommute from May 23 to June 13, provided they are involved in six local entrepreneurial projects.
The pandemic will (hopefully) end. Naturally, many teleworkers will (predictably) return to their places of origin. However, the Canary Islands and their entrepreneurs are committed to making sure they stay or at least return.
Fiona Murray seems to have succeeded. “I’ll be going back to London in June,” she explains. “But I’m going to talk to my bosses so I can telecommute for the entire month of December. I have to keep the Canary Islands in my life”.