October 17, 2020 – The first digital nomad conference in Croatia kicked off in Dubrovnik yesterday, an action-packed day including the presentation of the day from British Columbia, where the view is that Croatia has the potential to be the world’s number 1 digital nomad destination.
I don’t think I have been involved in organising a conference before and so I was not sure quite what to expect.
In truth, I didn’t do that much regarding the actual organisation of Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads, the first dedicated digital nomad conference in Croatia. With superb support from Deputy Mayor Jelka Tepsic and Dubrovnik Tourist Board director Ana Hrnic, as well as the outstanding efforts of Tanja Polegubic from Saltwater and her VERY international team of volunteers (from Chile, Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA and, of course, Croatia), the first day more than exceeded expectations, both in terms of organisation and content.
A word on the setting. Symbolically located in the Lazareti, the original quarantine station for the city of Dubrovnik (the Dubrovnik Republic was the first to introduce quarantine way back in 1377 in Cavtat), the historic buildings have recently been renovated to high standard for multi-functional purposes, including conferences, exhibitions, concerts and – until October 25 as part of European Freelancer Week – a free coworking space for digital nomads.
Could there be a more perfect backdrop to hold a remote worker conference during a pandemic, with views out to the Adriatic and those famous Dubrovnik city walls?
The conference had to deal with its corona challenges, of course, both in terms of social distancing, as well as the technology. With strong global interest in the conference, and with several of the expert speakers unable to attend in person, pulling off a live conference with a combination of live and Zoom audiences and speakers was quite a technical challenge, but one which the AV team pulled off superbly. Svaka cast!
And there were certainly stars of the Croatian digital nomad world on show, including keynote speaker Jan de Jong, whose drive to introduce a digital nomad visa for Croatia has received the backing of the Prime Minister, and it should become a reality in the first quarter of 2021. Much more on Jan and his update in another TCN article coming later today.
The biggest online audience was reserved for another keynote speaker, the NY Times bestselling author of ‘Blue Mind’, Dr Wallace J. Nichols, whose interactive session on wellbeing and productivity with Tanja Polegubic was a hit.
There was plenty of minute detail and facts presented, including a great session on Croatia, digital nomads and tax from KPMG.
But the speaker who really caught the eye – well, my two eyes at least – was beamed in from British Columbia and put forward the case for Croatia with the potential to become the number one digital nomad destination in the world. Kashlee Kucheran runs the successful lifestyle and travel blow, Travel Off Path, with a current focus on providing the latest COVID-19 global travel updates. It has become essential reading for travellers and nomads, with over 3 million unique visitors and rising rapidly.
And the first feedback that Kashlee shared was that Croatia is ‘absolutely buzzing’ as a current digital nomad destination in her rapidly expanding community.
It was fascinating to watch her presentation, for here was an experienced traveller monitoring the global situation offering a unique insight into the current digital nomad scene around the world, and why Croatia appears to be even more competitively positioned than ever its most ardent supporters had realised. And then the most surprising aspect of Kashlee’s presentation as she explained all the reasons why Croatia is such a hot digital nomad destination – she has not managed to visit yet, although by the end of her presentation she had accepted an invitation to spend a month in Dubrovnik as part of the City of Dubrovnik/Durbovnik Tourist Board/Saltwater/Total Croatia News international digital nomad competition in April.
So what makes Croatia such a special digital nomad destination, according to Travel Off Parh?
What I really liked about her presentation was the simple, step by step guide of the thought processes and considerations that were the backbone of the presentation. Providing services for digital nomads is a lot more complex than providing a bed and decent WiFi. Here are some of the main considerations to look at, all of which Croatia excels at – weather, cost, community, connection, ease, safety, culture.
Corona changed the digital nomad landscape, with many countries no longer accessible. Additional considerations are also ones where Croatia compares favourably – freedom of movement within the country, how they handled their lockdown, and, of course, open borders
All of these factors, believes Kashlee, position Croatia as a potential leader in the digital nomad destination rankings, a position which will only be strengthened by the introduction of the digital nomad visa being championed by de Jong.
With Dubai announcing a digital nomad visa this week, there are now six countries ahead of Croatia offering this service, with Estonia currently the only one in Europe. Each country has its own criteria for the visa, and visa prices and minimum income requirements vary wildly.
As do the destinations. While life on a small Caribbean island like Anguilla sounds idyllic, it is perhaps more for a holiday than an extended stay for a nomad looking for activities, culture and a social life. If Croatia can gets its visa pricing and income requirements right, it will be superbly positioned to offer the best package, which will include its trump card – its fabulous lifestyle.
The global digital nomad view on what Croatia offers.
Croatia took a very different approach to other EU countries, and it remains open to all (with PCR tests required by non-EU/EEA countries), and its approach to American visitors makes it very appealing to nomads from North America.
So what are the benefits to Croatia for embracing this digital nomad wave?
Year-round visitors investing in community, providing free marketing, and spending, spending, spending, while drip feeding the local mindset with progressive ideas and new opportunities.
What do the Croatian authorities need to do to take advantage of this huge economic gift? Not a lot. Focus on keeping the entry requirements flexible and deliver a digital nomad visa with reasonable conditions to benefit all.
Even without the visa, Croatia is buzzing, according to Kashlee. It was, she says, one of the top 10 COVID-19 destinations in the world even without the visa. Many digital nomads are die-hard travellers, and Croatia will be an increasingly interesting destination for them with so many countries off limits.
So how can businesses in Croatia prepare and adapt to the new digital nomad opportunity? Focus on the things that are important to these remote working visitors – affordable accommodation throughout the year (not being held hostage to tourist season prices), comfortable working environments, access to communities and lifestyle. And, of course, great WiFi.
Simple steps. Achievable steps. This is a really fantastic opportunity for Croatia, and there is already a significant waiting demand. The after-party discussions on the first day (many thanks to Polyclinic Glavic – who had a sensational announcement in the presentation following Kashlee, of which more on TCN soon – for the catering) were very lively, as nomads, speakers, organisers and local residents digested the best of a very exciting day.
A great presentation from Kashlee, and we look forward to welcoming her to Dubrovnik in April. If she was this impressed by Croatia without even visiting, one wonders how she will be feeling after a month in the Pearl in the Adriatic.
To follow the latest in the Croatian digital nomad journey, follow the dedicated TCN section.