Rich remote workers flee to US$70,000-a-month resorts while awaiting vaccines

Better awareness on the precautions to take when travelling is one of the factors that have further enabled a second-wave exodus to more permanent, far-flung locales. PHOTO: SIX SENSES LAAMU

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Unlike the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns, which sent people on road trips and to second homes, the second wave has globally triggered a desire for more permanent, warmer, far-flung escapes.

In Britain and Europe, the wealthy have flown to such warmer climates as Dubai, the Maldives and Spain to escape winter lockdown, says Mr Justin Huxter, founder of British-based Cartology Travel. Americans have more options for tropical bunkers: Hawaii has eased its travel restrictions and borders are open in Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize, as well as many parts of the Caribbean.

"People with lockdown fatigue have realised they can continue life in places with a lot less stress and a lot more room to breathe," says Embark Beyond founder Jack Ezon. He is seeing East Coast clients flock to luxury hotels and resorts in Florida, South Carolina, and Turks and Caicos Islands, while West Coast clients flee to Arizona, and Puerto Vallarta and Cabo in Mexico - anywhere with equally good weather and Wi-Fi.

The average cost, he says, is US$70,000 (S$92,500) a month, with most clients booking two- to four-month stays.

Extended-stay discounts, the reopening of certain international borders, and better awareness on the precautions to take when travelling have further enabled a second-wave exodus. While socially isolating in a five-star resort may have been a novelty at the beginning of the pandemic, it is now a need for a certain class of consumer; in Thailand, it is a business plan.

"By October, people started to realise they would be facing another winter in San Francisco with no restaurants, no entertainment, no offices - really nowhere to go. They wanted out," says Mr Leigh Rowan, founder of Bay Area-based Savanti Travel, whose clients are buying one-way tickets and working remotely from beachfront villas or amenity-laden hotels.

This time, he says, they are not coming back until there is promise of a vaccine appointment.

Indefinite checkout, please

Graphic designer Melanie Woods, 39, left San Francisco well before there was word of a winter lockdown. Since Oct 1 - the day Belize reopened its borders- she has been working out of director Francis Ford Coppola's rustic-luxe Turtle Inn resort, where her desk is by a window with a sea breeze.

"I swim for exercise between calls. On weekends, I feel like I'm on vacation. I can snorkel, zip line, swim," she says.

Belize requires travellers to have a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival, which gave Ms Woods peace of mind. The 27-room hotel, located on beachfront in Placencia, is also almost entirely open-air, making it easy to eat and socialise in distanced, outdoor settings. Rooms start at US$329 a night, but extended stays reap 20 per cent discounts on both accommodation and food; Ms Woods is renting out her apartment back home to offset the expense.

"I probably won't return until summer, or when I can get a vaccine," she says.

Improved creativity and productivity

Jetting off to a sandy paradise is not just a lifestyle play. Savanti Travel's Mr Rowan says many of his clients can actually do their jobs better in a different setting.

"Many creatives, start-ups and techies are realising they can meet interesting investors in places like Oaxaca or San Miguel de Allende," he says.

Ms Cheyenne Quinn, 39, a partner in a branding and consulting company in Los Angeles, is among that set. "When LA went into lockdown again, it was way more intense," she says. "I was consumed with the idea of escaping." In October, she flew to Tulum and has been renting homes around Mexico for as little as US$20 a night.

"This trip has benefited me financially, socially and emotionally," she says.

Before the pandemic, Ms Quinn was working with such major clients as Louis Vuitton and Modelo. That business has disappeared, but she has met artisans and small company owners through her travels who have helped rebuild her company; several have hired her to consult on social media strategy and marketing, she says.

Mr Shawn Garvey, a 55-year-old chief executive officer of an energy innovation company in the Bay Area, has also seen productivity gains from his extended vacation in Mexico. He had been dragging himself into his empty office simply to stay productive.

"I was lethargic and tired. My inspiration was declining," he says, adding that most of his days consisted of "rolling out of my bed and working from my laptop in my underwear".

His wife Kimberley owns a court reporting firm that she now runs remotely; their three children are grown. "For the first time in decades, we didn't have anything preventing us from leaving," he says.

Now they are living at the Modern Elder Academy near Todos Santos, on Mexico's Pacific coast; it was named one of Bloomberg Pursuits' Best Places to Travel in 2021. A month-long stay for two, including meals, costs US$7,500, which Mr Garvey estimates is half of the couple's monthly living expenses back home.

"I've done more here in the last four weeks than I did all of last year," says Mr Garvey, noting that he and his wife are essentially still sheltering in place. The access to the great outdoors has reinvigorated his creativity, he says - when whales breech or jump during his Zoom calls, he tells his co-workers they have earned Mother Nature's applause. It has been such a positive experience, he is now building a home in Todos Santos.

"From a professional perspective, I'm not interested in returning until the offices are open again," Mr Garvey says. "Frankly, I think clients and collaborators react very positively to the idea that I am here in Mexico."

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