Nomad Summit Cancun - Recap and Review!

It was our first year having the Nomad Summit in Mexico and honestly, it almost didn't happen. People kept messaging me saying it was dangerous and to watch the news. I had people scare the crap out of me saying I was putting people's lives in danger by having the event here. But luckily, I've been through this situation enough traveling and living in places like Thailand, Cambodia, and Ukraine not to listen to what mainstream media or people to scared to leave their hometown have to say. I did my research, asked around to local friends who actually live here, and even came 2 weeks early just to scout out both Playa Del Carmen and Cancun myself just in case before everyone arrived.

Last year we had the Nomad Summit in Las Vegas and people loved it, especially those who live in North America and can't make it all the way out to Thailand, or need to stay in the same time zone for work or meetings. The only problem is Vegas isn't a great nomad destination and it's expensive. Mexico however, is perfect for that, there are direct flights from all the big cities in Central America, and parts of South America,  Canada, United States, and even Western Europe. That and the fact that a new Selina co-working/co-living hotel just opened up across the street from Cancun's International Convention Center with 650 beds made it a perfect partnership to get things started this year. It was our first year and there was a ton to learn and grow from, but with 179 attendees, this was an amazing first year. Here's the recap, review, and lessons learned.

Why Cancun Mexico?

A big first question is why Cancun and not somewhere else in Mexico? Why not somewhere less touristy and more beautiful such as Puerto Escondido, Puerto Morelos, Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca, Mérida, or Tulum? The answer is, because even though those may all be amazing places to visit and travel to, it's not very nomad or conference friendly. Our goal was to get people into Mexico, show them a few amazing places, and hopefully encourge people to either A. stay longer and explore and see more during this trip, or B. to come back to Mexico again now that they're comfortable traveling here.

I actually wanted to have the conference in Playa Del Carmen as it's a bit less touristy and has a great local digital nomad and expat community here. But because of the size of the convention center and the hotels there, it was easier to have the main four days in Cancun where the airport is, and have Playa Del Carmen be the spot for the after events. The Selina in Cancun's Hotel zone was also the perfect place to have the pre-registration and pool parties along with being the recommended host hotel where everyone stayed as it was directly across from the convention center and had rooms ranging from shared dorms to private rooms for everyone. 

The Cancun airport itself was also perfect as it has mostly direct flights from Buenos Aires, Calgary, Madrid, Paris, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, NY, Philly, Phoenix, Bogota, London, Frankfurt, Atlanta, Detroit, LA, Minneapolis, Zurich, Dusseldorf, St. Louis, Boston, Florida, Brussels, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Washington, Costa Rica, San Salvador, and of course Mexico City. People were also surprised and happy that they could fly direct from Canada round trip for $450 round trip. Our flights from LA and Las Vegas were both around $200 one way which was easy and affordable as well.

Here's a video recap of the event and how it went!

Nomad Summit Cancun Events

Selina Cancun Hotel Zone

If you haven't stayed at or heard of Selina before, they are a fast growing worldwide chain of hotels designed specifically for digital nomads. Which location has community events and centers to meet other travelers, but unlike hostels, they are a bit more upscale, have private rooms, and attracts less of a backpacker party traveler and more of a modern traveler that appreciates having some quiet spaces, and an on-site coworking space. The Cancun Hotel Zone location was perfect for the location, size, and amenities such as a large coworking space, 40 person event space where we had our workshops, huge pool where we had the party, and a really cool poolside bar and restaurant where people could work outside, hang out, network and have both food and drinks.

They had a range of rooms staring at $15 a night for a shared dorm, rooms with 4 beds to share with family or friends for $112 a night or around $80 a night for private single rooms. But what I really liked was the fact that they had a ton of common spaces such a huge cinema room, library room, yoga deck and kitchen that anyone staying there could use. The coworking space was also vital for people who had remote jobs to do still and didn't want to work by the pool bar. It was our first year working with Selina and overall it was a great partnership and a win/win situation as they wanted to attract digital nomads, and we needed a place that was big enough to have everyone stay, and a place to do things like the pool party, pre-registration and the workshops.

Below is a video tour I made at Selina Cancun that shows what the property is like, and why it was perfect for digital nomads and to host the conference. 

Nomad Summit Cancun Pool Party at Selina

Attendee Demographics

For this event we sold a total of 181 tickets, which was almost twice the size of our Las Vegas event which had just about 100 people, but half the size of our most recent Chiang Mai conference which had 400 attendees last year. I think that Cancun has the potential to be a 400 person event as early as next year though, and can possibly become even bigger than the Chiang Mai event if we can get enough Americans and Canadians who are interested in the digital nomad and remote work lifestyle, but don't want to make the move to Thailand just yet, or otherwise can't leave the time zone or be so far away. 

That assumption is backed both by talking to attendees and getting to know their backstories as well as the data from our ticket purchases. As you can see from the 181 ticket sales 68% of attendees this year came from the United States, or at least used a US issued credit card or paypal account to buy tickets. Our second largest audience is from Canada, followed by Germany then the UK. I was really impressed that we had a bunch of people from Europe including the UK, Denmark, Spain, and Italy and one attendee from Japan. But what was really impressive is that we had a few people come from as far as Australia and South Africa. Locally we had a few people from Central and South America including Peru, Costa Rica and a strong amount locally from Mexico. 

I was really happy to see a good turn out from local Mexican entrepreneurs and digital nomads, as well as a lot of expats living in Playa Del Carmen, Cancun and across Mexico who came to the event. As with all of our events we we offer at cost tickets for locals who want to attend and learn but can't afford the full price tickets and this year we had a few people help out at the event in exchange for free or discounted admission. But by far our biggest demographic is still Americans who either currently live in the US or have recently started traveling or living aboard, in both Mexico and elsewhere. 

We don't collect data on gender or age, but based on interactions, looking around the room, and from the group photo, ages ranged from 18-70 this year with the majority of people between 24-32. There was almost a perfect 50/50 equal mix of men and women which was surprisingly as in past years, the digital nomad and entrepreneurial scene was always leaning more towards 70/30 men to women. Take a look at the chart below for demographics by country and the group photo to see the demographics of our attendees this year in detail. 

All the attendees, speakers and staff on stage!

The Survey Results

Each year we survey our attendees to see what we did well and what we can improve on. Our goal is to make the Nomad Summit better each year. But as the conference grows and we expand to new places, it becomes harder and harder to keep everyone happy. One thing that a lot of people don't realize is that everything comes at a cost, and that it's a huge balancing act to try to make the best event while making the majority of people happy. One of our most requested feature is to have more talks, and a lot of people want an entire additional day of talks. However the cost to doing so is higher ticket prices, and lower quality talks overall as it's harder to find and vet then rehearse with that many speakers each year. This year's winner of audience's favorite talk goes to Gillian Perkins - Business Growth: How to Generate 100 Leads Everyday for Free! Make sure you subscribe to the email list on Nomad Summit to get access to her talk for free when it comes out. 

Another hard thing to balance is finding new locations to have the conference and unique things to do, while having the schedule planned out in advance. This year a major thing that we needed to improve on was communicating in advance where is everything was going to be, the specific meetup times, and events both before and after the conference. By having the conference multiple years in the same location, it gets easier to plan these things out well in advance, but also gets boring for people who have attended and have done the same trips in previous years. Our goal is to try to juggle the balancing of bringing in new, exciting things that everyone will like, while also being able to schedule them in advance. 

A big lesson we learned early on is that you can't make 100% of people happy, but you can make 95% of people extremely happy and that has been our goal each year. We try to fix the things we can improve on each year, while also not doing things like doubling the price of the ticket to add another day of talks. Our favorite key metric is asking our attendees if they would recomend the event to a friend and over 80% said "Yes" or "Yes I Already Have!" 

Another key metric we look at each year is if people got their money's worth and we're happy to say that almost every attendee, close to 95% said it was either a fair to good value or that it was great, and that even includes the people who missed the main day or part of the conference! We're also excited that more than half of attendees (60%) came to Mexico and Cancun specifically or mainly for the Nomad Summit. The local businesses in both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen have been super supportive and happy for digital nomads to come as they love long term travelers and want to get away from the weekend party and spring break crowd that they normally attract.

The After Events

A big thing that we've been trying to do with each Nomad Summit is to extend the time together as a group for as long as possible after each event. This year was a bit of an experiment as it was our first time in Cancun/Playa but it's almost two weeks later and there is still a massive crew of us hanging out together, coworking, having meals, and going out together here in Playa Del Carmen after the event. Even better is we're able to create deals like free coworking days to check out different coworking spaces, get enough people together to have entire tours just to ourselves and also meet other local entrepreneurs, expats and digital nomads. The one thing we could have done much better was to communicate before hand what and when those activities were as as lot of people need the time to plan ahead, but it's something we definitely want to integrate next year with more notice.

Some of the favorite things we did together was a group afterwards was go to the island of Isla Mujeres near Cancun for a day trip at the beach, where half the group rented and drove around on golf carts to explore the island. Then there was the scuba diving and snorkeling trip to Cozumel together which was a blast. And probably my personal favorite was when we rented an entire 45 person tour bus to take us to one of the 7 new Wonders of the world, Chichen Itza and to the Cenotes. The best part of it all was getting to travel and see cool places together as a group and really build deeper friendships even after the conference.

Here are videos from both the Cozumel trip and the Cenotes that I made for my personal page, but shared with the group.

Lessons Learned

I'm really glad that we had Nomad Summit come to Cancun this year. The feedback from the event has been overwhelming positive and the people who liked the event really loved it. Of course we'll take into consideration the contractive criticism, but I'm really glad to say that even though this was our first event in Mexico, I think that we've gotten down the most important parts such as the learning, networking and socializing down to a science now that it's been our 7th event, which is still crazy to think about how far we've come.

For next year we'll be sure to plan everything including the optional after activities further out in advance so everyone has more time to plan their travels. It goes a bit against our flow as digital nomads, as part of location independence and the freedom we crave is to be able to not plan things so far in advance and to be a bit more free flowing to see what the vibe and energy is to see if we want to do more business/networking type activities, coworking days, or if we want to have more adventure days like scuba diving and day trips. But I also understand that most people, especially those with remote jobs or are just starting out, need the time to pre plan and prepare, so we're going to respect that and promise to have schedules out earlier.

The aftermovie and the speaker talks from this year should be ready in the next two weeks so make sure you subscribe to our email list at Nomad Summit and to our Youtube Channel as well. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments. Hope to see all of you at the next Nomad Summit, happening in Chiang Mai, Thailand January 2020!

Visit for Details!

Hola from Mexico,

Johnny FD

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  1. Was just there back in May and ended up staying at the same Selina hotel by coincidence. I suppose Cancun is tourist heavy, and for first time travelers/first timers in Mexico it can be comforting to do it at a mainstream place. Me and the gf rented a car and went to Playa del Carmen and Tulum, which is a great more hippie(or yuppie) destination, and I can see how it would take additional transportation efforts to get to those locations.

    1. Hey Rio, that's cool you got to check out the same Selina hotel. You're right, most first time travelers are much more comfortable going somewhere they've heard of or have had friends and family go than a smaller unheard of town or city.

      I'm in Playa Del Carmen now and love it, and will go to Tulum this weekend as well. It's been super easy to get around through. From Cancun the attendees came down to Playa in a mix of sharing taxis, vans, and a group of us just took the local ADO bus which is super easy.


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