In the months after the pandemic was declared and offices were closed, the image of the professional “digital nomad” arose — a “have laptop, will travel” persona who moves from locale to locale, ditching the office and working from a succession of desirable places.
Acknowledging that the pandemic professional nomad “didn’t happen” to the extent envisioned, Alberto Ramos Elizondo, chief revenue officer at home sharing platform Casai, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster that the concept is being refined to its best purpose during a conversation for the series “Digital Payments Flip the Script: 10 Merchants and 10 Visions for Digital Transformation,” a PYMNTS and PayPal collaboration.
People are traveling for work and play in different ways now, and that’s impacting some sectors, like business travel, in ways that are bound to have major implications down the road.
For example, Latin America is now a hotbed of digital payments activity, and Casai is leveraging payment innovations like the Pix instant payments system in Brazil — and there’s more to it.
The company wants to move to a pricing model akin to all-inclusive resorts where the guest pays once. That is easier said than done even during the great digital shift, but it’s happening.
Among “big trends that we are seeing in Latin America and in our business, one of them is being able to pay however you want,” Elizondo said.
Payments preference plays well with digital nomads, and Casai is connecting those digital dots.
He told Webster that “domestic players have [local payments] very well covered, but they don’t have international connectivity. As a fun fact, I think our third-biggest European source of traffic in 2021 was Kazakhstan. We can’t even narrow it to ‘there’s these three countries that I need to make sure payments work well.’ We have people from China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Singapore.”
That means “being absolutely accessible to all forms of payments,” he said.
“Everything else goes on top of that,” Elizondo added. “It’s super important. Another thing that I think is important is these alternative modes of payment. It is impressive, specifically in Brazil, how well B2C and B2B direct digital payment platforms have worked.”
The First 10 Minutes
Guest experience needs redefining when it’s a residential stay and not a weekend getaway. Home-sharing platforms are working at this as business travel looms larger in their roadmaps.
“The core of this is to understand that even in hyper-data driven companies such as Casai, the outcomes desired fundamentally are emotional,” Elizondo said. “You want to create loyalty. You want to create amazing experiences.”
It’s led to an obsession with the first 10 minutes of a guest’s experience.
“For us, if you get those first 10 minutes right, that gets you 80% of the way there,” he said. “If you get those first 10 minutes a little bit wrong, no matter what you do after, it becomes very hard to turn it around.”
That’s complex for a global hospitality business from both a tech and human service perspective.
Elizondo conjured the European business traveler, perhaps in Mexico, who needs to make calls, has to have perfect internet connectivity at 3 a.m. local time and needs support if something goes amiss.
The company is investing in systems that constantly monitor internet uptimes — which are as important as food and water to many guests — at its properties, and there’s much more to it.
Because assurance and convenience are two things all travelers also want, Casai instituted a 60-second access promise meant to place the visitor instantly inside the home. It vows that from the front door to the couch, it should take no more than one minute to enter and connect to Wi-Fi.
“We have invested a ton on back-end technology to ensure that all these basic reliable things — hot water, that the cleanings happen on time, that services are provided on time — everything happens perfectly and with the least amount of interaction needed with the guest,” he said.
That’s the effortless hotel-meets-home-share concept that’s catching on more in 2022.
Real-time sentiment analysis is one of the technologies Casai is employing to understand what makes that happen, ideally before they do, and certainly to smooth out any rough edges.
Not using automation to handle all guest issues helps foster the sense of belonging that Casai is building into its guest experience, helping travelers feel genuinely at home.
“We want to revolutionize this concept into something that we call ‘all immersive tourism,’ where yes, you can go to the little restaurant next door, you can experience all the city, but you can still pay in one place, and you don’t have to worry about getting out local currency,” he said. “You have the advantages of all-inclusive without the isolation that it brings.”
With uncertainty coming back to travel due to the Russia-Ukraine war, inflation and ongoing pandemic restrictions in some parts of the world, Elizondo told PYMNTS that 2022 is a year for companies in the space to focus on recurrence, retention, referrals and loyalty.
“Being a consumer of your product means that someone’s part of a tribe,” he said. “That is the stickiest thing that you can have emotion-wise.”
Meet ‘Purposeful Work Travel’
Noting that leisure travelers are getting more flexible about dates and staying a little longer after two years of restrictions, he said, “What is definitely not coming back is people who are traveling to three different cities to attend three different meetings for one-day trips.”
Elizondo called this the rise of “purposeful work travel,” where you’re likely to spend “two weeks or a month” with a different team for some occasionally necessary facetime and collaboration.
So, while we don’t have bands of professional digital nomads just yet, “We are seeing that this profile is affecting all of the other profiles,” he said.
“Instead of saying we have leisure travelers, business travelers and digital nomads, it’s the same person,” he continued. “We just capture them at different sort of stages in their life and needs.”
Delving into what it’s calling “curated locality,” Casai guest feedback indicates that isolation is a drawback to being a digital nomad in a new city and dwelling. That’s being dealt with creatively.
Pointing to “Casai fanatics” who are loyal to the service — and vocal about everything — he said they’ve learned a lot about what’s truly valued, and what’s nice to have.
Joking that “high-speed Wi-Fi should be added to Maslow’s [hierarchy] of needs because at this point, it’s basically the same as water and food” to home-sharing guests, he said, “As the pandemic has progressed, we’ve realized that a little bit of what we want to shift toward is human-focused technology, as we call it.
“This is really understanding the core needs [of guests] and addressing those in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive, that feels natural.”