But then, with the pandemic dragging on, the Savoy contacted him. The other Savoy Signature hotels would remain closed due to lack of tourism, but the Savoy Palace, the chain’s flagship hotel, would remain open. Danchuk nomads could help them keep the lights on. The Savoy Palace was theirs. ” I could not believe it ; it was a crazy development,” says Danchuk. “But part of me was also a little scared.” With over 100 millennial nomads locked in a five-star hotel during a global pandemic, what could possibly go wrong?
Danchuk spread the word on various nomad hubs on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Slack. There were no requirements to enter the Palace – it would be first come, first served – but many people wanted to enter: around 1,000 of them for only 168 places. While Hall’s nomadic village of Ponta do Sol attracted a younger, less-established crowd drawn to its apartment and small-town feel, Danchuk’s luxury offering attracted what he described as a more old and more entrepreneurial of telehealth doctors, crypto traders and founding start-ups.
One of the earliest arrivals, last February, was Lorelie Dijan, a fashionable, fun-loving 33-year-old Filipina. Dijan was working as an IT project manager for an automotive company in Frankfurt, Germany when the pandemic hit. When she walked into the Savoy’s chandelier-and-gilt reception hall, she couldn’t believe it, she tells me. “It was like, Wow, okay, that’s awesome.” And yet, it was so surreal to see it so abandoned, except for a few staff members waiting to greet her. “Hardly anyone was there,” she told me on Zoom from her apartment in Germany in November.
Teemu Tiilikainen, the 32-year-old co-founder of a computer consulting firm in Finland, and his wife, software engineer Sofia Seger, arrived with hopes of not only finding refuge from COVID, but also something that escapes often to young professionals: new friends. “At this age, most of your life revolves around your job or your hobbies or whatever,” he says. “Actually, I don’t often make new friends. But we all came to be together in this bubble.
Because of COVID, that bubble was real. Nomads had to test negative just to enter Madeira. And due to Madeira’s strict curfew, the Savoyians, as they called themselves, had to stay in the hotel after hours. Of course, being stuck inside a luxury tower has its perks. Nomads have made the Savoy their dream dormitory. Danchuk describes them as living off room service and plugging a PlayStation into the TV in the cigar room. They hit the gym, got a massage and drank glasses of poncha, the island’s sweet, lemony cocktail, at one of the hotel’s bars, which Danchuk says he persuaded the hotel to leave open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (The Savoy Palace said bars were never open after midnight.)
Using a Slack channel to get organized, they started playing as a group, moving from the breakfast buffet to the palm-lined pool and rocky beach. They planned yoga classes, karaoke in conference rooms and a self-help ritual called a circle, in which they gathered on the lawn to share their thoughts, feelings and fears. The nomads conceived of a new kind of communal life – with room service. “It felt like a united family after maybe two weeks,” says Dijan, “because every night we were doing something; on weekends we were doing something. They got so close that the encounters, she jokes, “felt like incest”.
“It was surreal to see all of this unfold before my eyes,” Danchuk said. “I pinched myself to see this community thrive under one roof.” Gone are the days when someone had to be stuck in their own neighborhood, isolated and alone. With social networks, people could create their own communities all over the world. Now they could actually move in there. “Nowadays, you can find groups on Facebook that you feel like your tribe, and you can create your own reality,” says Danchuk. The perfect storm of the pandemic, Madeira and Savoy proved that this approach to hacking life was viable. “It was happening before,” Danchuk says, “but it was the first time we experienced it.”