The heart of Europe is a massive conglomerate of sedimentary rocks called Alps. They are surrounded by plains where half a billion people live, looking at the mighty peaks from afar and in the last century, alpine huts have given shelter to scores of tourists.
Now, their very existence is threatened by decades of steady decline, as younger generations are less attracted to outdoor activities than the previous ones. Covid-19 only accentuated the current crisis, and many huts are faced the perspective of closing forever. Thus, they’ve a desperate need of re-inventing their businness model.
Digital nomads might represent the solution they seek and many of them love mountains. Trekkers of all countries and ages have always dreamt of living and working in the wilderness, but they were stopped until now by lack of connectivity. With the advent of 4G and of low-cost satellite internet access, finally also mountain huts are opening their doors to digital nomads. This year is a special one for digital nomads in Italy.
Suddenly, millions of people have become smart workers. This summer, many of them choose to work from the beach or from mountain towns, enjoying the new way of life. Soon, they will be able to work from alpine huts too, not only freelancers, but also dependent workers. A typical employee with only 23 days of holidays per year will be able in this way to spend many months per year working and practicing his favorite outdoor activities in the mountains.
This new army of digital nomads and smart workers might help reverting the negative trend of the huts’ visitors. The main advantage of these so-called “mountain workers” (or “smart trekkers”) is that they’d stay in the huts mainly during working days, when huts are usually half empty, creating a new market share that’d help this sector bloom again. This new community faces two big challenges, one technological and one psychological.
The first obstacle is mainly related to the widespread adoption of broadband connection in the huts and it will be slowly overcome thanks to the fierce competitions between companies like SpaceX and Amazon, that are already launching thousands of low-orbit satellites to deliver low-latency, high speed worldwide Internet access. Another issue is the weight of the digital equipment needed to work from the huts (laptop, external batteries, smartphone, chargers), but luckily laptops will be replaced in this decade by smartphones with flexible and lightweight screens, so it’ll soon be possible for trekkers to live and work moving from hut to hut with only a small backpack.
The second challenge is related to the change of mentality the huts’ owners are slowly undertaking to understand that to prosper in the third millennium, time has come for opening their doors to internet. Mountain working also needs facilitations to start up, for example discounts for staying in the huts in the weekdays or for long staying, as hut fees are still quite expensive for the average trekker. Also providing them simple comforts like free hot showers, washing machines and pillows for their chair’d help attracting them.
Of course huts won’t become offices, but “smart huts” where more people than before will be able to meet to share their passions. To accelerate this process, it is important at this stage to build a bridge between the community of mountain workers and that of the owners of the huts. These two realities are still separated, but they’ve to communicate between them to recognize their mutual dependence, understand their needs and find common ground that will allow both communities to prosper, in a win-win strategy that benefits everyone. To this end, a facebook group was opened as a rally point of these two communities: Smartrekkers.
The group contacted in the previous months all the 1000+ italian alpine huts (half of the Alps belongs to Italy, while the rest is split between Switzerland, Austria, France, Slovenia and Germany), asking them to fill a form on their broadband availability. The huts that answered the questionnaire are described in the group posts, offering mountain workers detailed information about which huts are best suited to host them. The group also gives advices and suggestions on how to walk and work for long periods in the mountains. If you have a first-hand experience of working from a hut, please share it with us!
As the group grows, also the owners of the huts will recognize the existence of a large community that is ready to work in their structures and will fully understand the potential benefits of the mountain workers for their economy. Thus, they will be more willing to introduce special offers to attract this new type of guests. Some of them indeed have already started collaborating and from this summer they were the first ones to introduce discounts for smart trekkers. If you join the group, not only you will discover the best huts to work from remote, but you will also indirectly help saving huts from the crisis. Good walk and good work!