Basic Event Information:
Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence (DN-I-R) Program
Date: 23 April to 23 May 2021
Location: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Organiser: Saltwater Nomads (Media partner Total Croatia News)
Client: Tourist Board of Dubrovnik and City of Dubrovnik
EVENT CATEGORY: CROSSOVER
EVENT FORMAT: LIVE
Event description and key objectives
10 winners. 4 weeks. A once in a lifetime experience.
The Dubrovnik digital nomad-in-residence (DN-I-R) program is a collaboration between the city of Dubrovnik and the global digital nomad community it hosts. It was held from 23 April to 23 May 2021.
Using a co-creation model, the Saltwater program team brought together residents and 10 digital nomads selected as DN-I-Rs. Over a four week period, the digital nomads attended design thinking workshops to create a strategic direction for the city, especially as it adjusts to a more sustainable direction and manages the impact of COVID19.
Winners stayed free in Dubrovnik for 4 weeks to collaborate, upskill and contribute as Dubrovnik’s first special guest Digital Nomads-in-Residence.
The activities in the program were intended to contribute to enhancing the city’s standing among digital nomads globally. DN-I-Rs were expected to engage fully, respect their position and bring their collective expertise to benefit incoming digital nomads and the City. DN-I-Rs received professional development training, participated in workshops and presented their findings on shaping Dubrovnik as a Digital Nomad Friendly city. This was presented at a finale event at the end of the program as a roadmap of quick wins, mid and long term goals.
The program team included design thinking experts and a placemaking strategist. They led representatives from the city and digital nomads ranging from CEOs, radio hosts to writers and a migration scholar.
Being the first event of its kind in the world, there was no benchmark to reference. Bringing in the right expertise required a well informed forecast on what would make a great program. This was achieved with a team who have global experience – and builds on the legacy of an event organised 6 months prior, Croatia’s first digital nomad conference, “Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads”.
Several areas stand out as the challenges for the event.
- COVID19 AND TRAVEL
- ACCOMMODATION COSTS
- AWARENESS AND EDUCATION
- COVID19 TRAVEL
Due to current epidemiological measures, the number of attendees at any one venue was restricted. Further, many of the attendees required a lot of logistical support to attend and with limited flight connections. The city in particular is very reliant on air travel. 60% of attendees came by air, with the rest within driving distance of Dubrovnik.
- ACCOMMODATION AND COSTS
One of the major disruptors this audience brings to tourism is the desire for longterm travel. The destination is known as a short term destination; something the city are actively looking to change. As this is still a relatively new audience, the accommodation options were limited, as property owners opt for short term lets to recoup the losses of 2020.
- AWARENESS AND EDUCATION
Digital nomads are a new concept for many local residents. Some businesses required education on this target audience and mythbusting. Established providers and early adopters embraced this audience.
*First of its kind in the world.
*Medieval meets Modern.
This was the first event of its kind in the world, and was picked up by a variety of media focused on travel, cities, European policy, lifestyle and business.
This event stood out. Running a global competition to an ‘overnight audience’ gained worldwide exposure among its target audience. With the pandemic, remote work has become a mainstay – and this event was open to anyone who could work remotely.
Dubrovnik is famous for its beauty AND as one of the most over-touristed cities (per capita) after Venice. This was an opportunity to work with a fresh approach – and the city and tourist board were supportive and grasped the idea from day one, valuing its innovation and potential.
A medieval setting with a modern twist.
The main event setting was one of Europe’s first quarantine facilities – this imposing venue hosted 10 digital nomads from around the world. The stone arch Lazareti complex, outside the walls of Dubrovnik, was the setting of the design thinking workshops and coworking space.
Entering required a one minute video application, explaining what skills the DNIRs could bring, and why they were applying. The selection ensured a creative mix of skills, backgrounds and ages – to bring the best possible range of perspectives to inform a new strategy for the city and its tourism – one which is sustainable, locally loved and globally admired.
This is the first (known) Residency program for Digital Nomads in the world.
It was also the first time the region had seen design thinking principles applied to a program which would inform aspects including urban planning, tourism, hospitality, work and lifestyle trends – using a co-creation model.
The program team consisted of experienced professionals from the tech industry, placemaking strategy, communication, regional development and social impact sectors.
Partnering with a media company brought the event to a wide audience, with near daily features of the rich program, interviews with all participants and insights into the city and what digital nomads could experience in the area.
The program also used collaborative tools to connect all participants prior to arrival, with Discord as a tool to connect and inform all stakeholders with fun and ease. The tool proved highly effective.
Revising how we ‘gather’ again following the changes brought by the pandemic saw all participants connected online the entire month, as well as in person. While the technology is helpful, the basic human need for connecting remains strong, and this was evident with the participants and the design of the program. In the latter half of the month, participants moved to a co-living setting, making use of a new accommodation complex supported by the city, Akademis Akademia. This award winning facility proved a unique way for the group to form bonds, stay connected and collaborate.
- A month-long event, with weekly workshops.
- Online communications platforms for next-level interaction.
- Events in historic locations – and aboard a medieval vessel.
This event was meticulously planned months in advance of delivery. In addition to the logistics of the month to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the design thinking workshops were structured in a way which drew on one of the lead facilitator’s (formerly of Apple) decades of experience building products for an iconic global brand.
The input and collaboration from the city was exemplary. The city and tourist board representatives were active contributors to each session, bringing in the expertise and knowledge sharing to inform the DNIRs and work together to co-create a strategy.
The workshops culminated in an event presentation outdoors, afloat on the majestic Karaka wooden warship. This time, equipped with internet and screening facilities.
Multiple businesses and tourist boards from neighbouring cities and islands (Korcula, Mljet and Lokrum Island) all gave their support and added to the program.
This event was delivered in partnership with the City of Dubrovnik, the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Total Croatia News and concept and management by Saltwater Nomads.
This community of local and visiting digital nomads demonstrates the longterm goals are being met – to build a community and maintain strong relations between the client and service providers connected to this event.
- Global and national media coverage.
- Online forum buzz.
- Newly established hub for digital nomads.
The event continued the momentum in positioning Croatia as a destination for a global remote workforce. The first being set in October 2020 with the Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads Conference – a hybrid event. There is a significant focus on Croatia right now.
As the event organiser and a long time remote work advocate – it was important and easy to bring together a network of thought and community leaders who have been watching and promoting Croatia. Croatia was an early mover in the space to welcome remote professionals in light of the pandemic, and among the first to make legislative changes to ease the process for third country nationals to stay longer in Croatia.
Further, these changes and promotion raises awareness to EU members and citizens; Croatia is an ideal place to base for work – be it a month, a year or a lifetime. The popular Digital Nomad Permit brings even wider effects – locals and the next generation in particular will see new opportunities and avenues for business and employment, by witnessing firsthand the evolving remote workplace and making business connections.
Tourism as we know it has changed with the pandemic; responding to a shifting way of working and lifestyle gives Croatia a new opportunity – recognised by outlets such as The Washington Post, Fast Company and the Independent UK.
The longterm strategy for the client, the City and Tourist Board of Dubrovnik were adhered to in all aspects of the program delivery and communications.
These are, namely:
- Continuity. Build on the momentum of the first digital nomad conference, ‘Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads’ – its partnerships, audience engagement and community impact.
- Raise awareness globally and profile of Dubrovnik as a digital nomad destination.
- Position Dubrovnik as a forward-thinking city, with a fresh, collaborative approach which values its visitors and temporary residents, in harmony and alignment with the City.
- Lead. Deliver best practice initiatives in Croatia and be respected internationally for urban planning and sustainable tourism directions.
- Identify, analyse and implement feasible ways to create a Digital Nomad Friendly city.
This event has raised awareness through the largest English language news portal in Croatia, Total Croatia News, with a dedicated section on Digital Nomads.
The event has also been circulated online – website and social media, including the channels for Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Saltwater Nomads and Total Croatia News. Multiple online forums specific to expats and digital nomads also have shared content among their respective audiences.
The event was featured in national media – online, print and television.
Several large online travel and business sites also promoted the program.
The use of sustainable practices
The event goal was to shape how ‘Dubrovnik 365’ might look. Global and local participants contributed to this vision.
The finale weekend opened with panelists discussing Sustainable and Regenerative Tourism. Panelists included the Deputy Mayor of Dubrovnik, NGO for Dubrovnik’s Respect The City initiative, the Director of Tourism, Zagreb Tourism and moderated by a blue economy expert DN-I-R.
Longtermism and Slow Travel:
The emphasis on longstays (i.e. 1 month) demonstrates sustainable tourism practices, with a move to slow travel and exploring less congested areas.
This event was specifically designed to educate and assist businesses who were most impacted by the events of 2020, especially Dubrovnik’s tourism and hospitality sector.
Along with the benefits of virtual attendance for facilitators, the month’s program was mostly accessed by public or group transport and on foot.
Strong collaborations, presentations and support from businesses and other localities were a constant element for the event month. The nearby tourist boards of Cavtat, Konavle Region, Ston, Mljet and Korcula islands all supported the program as weekend hosts.
The visiting digital nomads-in-residence started a legacy and connection to the historic city as it faces its next big test and adoption of sustainable practices. The findings of the DN-I-Rs show the importance of creating an ecosystem where a ‘365’ model is embraced by institutions, locals and visitors.