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Hospitality exchange

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Understanding[edit]

Hospitality Exchange or Home Stay is a form of accommodation whereby visitors stay in a house or apartment of a local of the city to which they are traveling. The stay can be for free, in exchange for monetary compensation, in exchange for a stay at the guest's property either simultaneously or at another time (home swapping), or in exchange for help on the host's property.

Advantages and disadvantages for the guests[edit]

Home stays can provide several advantages to home stay guests. However, as explained below, it always depends on a case by case basis whether a hospitality exchange is superior over a regular hotel or hostel.

  • Savings on accommodation costs, especially if for free
  • Personal connections and interactions with people from a different culture and/or social class, thereby strengthening intercultural understanding and reducing prejudices and intolerance
  • Local perspective and information about the city that is not easily found in guidebooks
  • A deeper understanding of the life of the locals
  • Opportunities to stay in areas under-served by hotels or hostels
  • Opportunities to stay in unique properties such as igloos, cabins, and castles

Home stays may have disadvantages over hotel/hostel accommodation:

  • May require additional planning before travel
  • Last minute changes or cancellations by either the host or the guest may inconvenience others
  • Accommodation and sleeping surfaces may be less comfortable and/or have less privacy
  • Guests may be required to adhere to a schedule or follow rules set by a host, which restrict freedom
  • Accommodation may not be close to tourist attractions
  • If the guest and host do not get along, the home stay can make a visit to an otherwise pleasant city unbearable

Nevertheless, a generalisation is difficult and travelers must decide on a case by case basis whether to prefer a hospitality exchange or a regular commercial place (hotel, hostel, motel, etc.).

  • Many hotels also cater greatly for their guests and understand their needs.
  • A payed hospitality exchange is not automatically cheaper than a hotel or serviced apartment. (For once, hotels are economically efficient by having many rooms.)
  • Standards vary independently of commercial or non-commercial provider.
  • A marketing facade does not say anything about the service in real life.

Home stay networks[edit]

A home stay network is an organization that connects travelers with local residents in the cities they are going to visit.

Joining usually just requires filling out an online form; although some networks offer or require additional verification. A listing of available hosts is provided either in print and/or online, sometimes with references by other travelers.

Each network has its own niche: some are based on monetary exchange while some require accommodation to be free, some cater to older travelers while some attract younger students, some encourage more social interaction between host and guest while others are more of a financial transaction, some are focused on home-for-home swapping while others are focused on lodging in exchange for work. Almost all networks operate worldwide.

The following are the major hospitality networks classified by commercial grade and in order of size and global activity.

Free (or minor flat fee)[edit]

This chapter focuses on accommodation which is free, but the related service/website needs to cover maintenance costs and may be commercial.

Couchsurfing[edit]

# of active hosts: 400,000[1]

Couchsurfing was founded in January 2004 after computer programmer Casey Fenton found a cheap flight to Iceland but did not have a place to stay. He emailed students at the local university and received an overwhelming number of offers for free accommodation. The limited membership is free—members can pay a fee to be "verified" or to send unlimited couch requests (see below). Unlike Airbnb, monetary exchange between the host and guest is forbidden; stays are completely free, although guests are encouraged to bring a gift, buy a drink, and/or cook a meal for their hosts. Guests can either message individual potential hosts with whom they want to stay or they can post their upcoming trips publicly and receive offers of accommodation from potential hosts. Members fill out a detailed profile that includes their interests and pictures. Guests and hosts can write references for each other. Members can also use the mobile app to "hangout" with each other. Members can also set up events and many major cities have regular member meetings. The site has been criticized for its term of use, which allows Couchsurfing to use the data in the profiles of its members.

Warmshowers[edit]

# of hosts: 71,281

Warmshowers is an online hospitality exchange organization exclusively for touring bicyclists that want either indoor accommodation or just a break from cycling and a warm shower.

In case you are planning to hitchhike, it can be a good option to bring a foldable bicycle along to bike part of the journey and take advantage of Warmshowers. This community is very welcoming but a little closed to no-bicycle outsiders.

Servas[edit]

# of members: over 14,000 hosts

Servas was created in 1949 by Bob Luitweiler, an American who lived in Denmark. Servas recommends that guest apply at least 4 weeks in advance of travel. Participation in Servas requires 2 letters of reference and paying a membership fee, which varies by country, and a personal interview with a local Servas coordinator. After the interview, the traveler gets a "letter of introduction" that's good for one year of travel, and a list of hosts in the countries he or she is visiting. Travellers contact prospective hosts in advance (lead time varies as defined by each host), giving estimated dates of travel, and they may be asked to reconfirm one or two days in advance of visit. They can stay with hosts for up to 3 days and 2 nights. Hosts provide sleeping space. Meals may be provided as well as assistance in visiting the city or area. At the end of their trip, Servas travellers are expected to provide a report to the local coordinator with any information that may be useful.

BeWelcome[edit]

# of (supposedly active) hosts: less than 12,100[2]

BeWelcome was founded in early 2007 and is grouped in the non profit BeVolunteer organization. It is based on the free and open source BW Rox. BeWelcome is a website run by BeVolunteer, a non-profit association legally registered in Rennes, France. Members of BeWelcome do not have to be members of BeVolunteer. BeWelcome is similar to the Couchsurfing community and supposed to be its free successor. All features of the website and stays are free (a must). Travelers can contact each other via the website with accommodation requests and leave references for each other after they meet. The website also includes a forum, contacts management, map search, and allows for set up of events. Profiles can be translated into other languages to make finding a host easier. The website is financed by donations of €1,700 per year and has annual operating expenses of €4,200 per year.

Hospitality Club[edit]

# of members: 328,629 (Alexa rank below BeWelcome)

Hospitality Club lists over 300,000 members, although based on the limited activity on its website, it appears to be defunct. Its concept is similar to Couchsurfing, in that accommodation is provided by hosts for free (a must) and members can leave references for each other. However, the site has limited features and an antiquated interface.

Global Freeloaders[edit]

# of (supposedly active) hosts: 115,000 (Alexa rank below Hospitality Club)

Global Freeloaders is based on the concept of getting a free place to stay and "seeing the world from a local's perspective". Members do not send individual requests for accommodation; they blast a request to several hosts at once. According to the website, one should only register if planning to host within the next 6 month, in an attempt to guarantee an active host community. In reality however this fact is not validated.

Horizon[edit]

# of members: 4,500

Horizon is an hospitality network designed to promote hosting and travel within specific trusted organizations. It allows travelers to reach out and connect with hosts with whom they belong to a common group or have a mutual friend. It therefore also allows various groups and organization to strengthen their community by promoting travel, hosting, and sharing within the group.

Pasporta Servo[edit]

# of members: 1,350

Pasporta Servo ("passport service") is a home stay network for speakers of Esperanto, an international auxiliary language. It's sponsored by TEJO, the World Organization of Young Esperantists, who publish a book each year listing thousands of hosts in 80 countries. Travelers pay a fee for the yearly host list. Hosts ask no fee for rooms, but each sets their own requirements for duration, number of visitors, contact ahead of time, and whether or not food is offered. Some hosts ask for compensation for food. Hosts receive the host list for free. All travelers are expected to communicate with their hosts in Esperanto. Coordination with the service is in Esperanto, and the host list is in Esperanto.

belodged.com[edit]

# of members: unknown

Belodged.com is a basic free accommodation site that is run by an accessible team of staff members. Registration is anonymous and free, no personal data except e-mail address and geographic information is needed.

Exchange[edit]

This chapter focuses on accommodation in exchange for your work or your home. Usually, a minor service fee is required for the associated website, see the Summary below.

Home Exchange[edit]

# of listings: 65,000

Home Exchange facilitates home-for-home exchanges of various types across the world. Members, who are then eligible to exchange homes, pay an annual fee. The website has several international affiliates, like https://www.haustauschferien.com in Germany.

HelpX[edit]

# of opportunities: 33,277

Help Exchange, or HelpX, was launched in April 2001 by computer programmer Rob Prince from England. Hosts offer guests long term accommodation in exchange for help. The website is most popular in Australia (8,700), New Zealand (5,800) and Europe (11,700). There is fierce competition between HelpX and Workaway, both are very similar. HelpX is cheaper, but Workaway has a nicer website.

Workaway[edit]

# of opportunities: 30,000+

Workaway offers an opportunity for travellers to provide help for about 5 hr per day to local hosts in exchange for food and lodging.

Volunteers (or "Workawayers") build an online profile listing their specific skills, interests or ambitions along with a video and photos of themselves. Volunteers pay a yearly subscription fee to use the website, after which they can contact any of the hosts on the website and discuss a possible exchange. Hosts also create a profile outlining the exchange they are proposing and the type of help that they need. It is free to register as a host. Types of help required include gardening, animal-care, cooking, and construction.

Workaway is aimed at budget travellers and language learners looking to become more immersed in the country and culture they are journeying through while allowing local hosts to meet like-minded people who can provide the help they require. The exact terms of any exchange are agreed in advance between the host and volunteer and Workaway only acts as a conduit. The duration of an exchange can range from a few days to over a year.

Note that many hosts use this service to circumvent worker costs or minimal wage conditions. Be sure to concentrate your support on hosts that really depend on volunteers and are not just commercially exploiting your good will.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)[edit]

# of farms: 16,000[3]

WWOOF is a green network that allows hosts that own organic farms to receive 4-6 hr per day of help on their farms (called WWOOFing) in exchange for food, accommodation, education, and cultural interaction. Monetary exchange is prohibited, although joining requires payment of an annual country-specific membership fee. Due to the missing international membership option, Workaway is slowly taking over the role of WWOOF.

Home Link[edit]

#: "thousands of home exchanges"

Home Link was started in 1953 as a way for teachers in different cities to swap homes for the summer. It facilitates home-for-home exchanges of various types.

Worldpackers[edit]

# of opportunities: 4,446

Worldpackers is similar to Workaway but concentrates more on short term assignments. The annual fee is a little higher than Workaway. Also, hosts can charge a fee per assignment, e.g. to cover for costs on their side, especially NGOs and other volunteer organisations.

Intervac[edit]

# of listings: 4,017

Intervac dates back to 1953 facilitates home-for-home exchanges and discounted home rentals. Annual membership fee.

Staydu.com[edit]

# of hosts: 3,619

Staydu.com was created by two German students who had the vision that everybody should be able to travel without spending a lot of money. Everyone can use staydu, but the focus is on low-budget travelers who are looking for a long term stay. Hosts can offer their accommodation for three categories: for work, for money, or for free. However, the website seems to be badly maintained and not up-to-date.

Working Traveller[edit]

# of members: 1,700

Working Traveller allows travellers to 'negotiate' what they would get in exchange for their skills from hosts. The site allows hosts to set what they are willing to pay, in terms of a bed, food, or money using a bargaining point system and a traveller can set what bargaining points they want to charge. This makes the site different from more traditional volunteering sites and more focused to career minded travellers looking for references on their return home to get a job.

HomeForSwap.com[edit]

# of listings: 9,000

HomeForSwap.com is a facilitator of home-for-home exchanges. The service requires an annual membership fee.

Green Theme International[edit]

# of members: 1,575

Green Theme International facilities reciprocal home exchange, like HomeExchange, whereby members exchange their house for a short or long period of time with someone else. It puts a focus on eco-friendliness and had a yearly membership fee.

HelpStay[edit]

# of projects: 1,000+

HelpStay facilitates the introduction of travellers and hosts for short-term work in exchange for accommodation. In general, a host will provide 1-3 meals a day and accommodation in return for about 20 hours of work per week from a volunteer. Hosts may also provide additional perks such as free internet, laundry, language lessons, use of kayaks or bikes, and local excursions. Some may offer live-in accommodation with the host family, a separate guesthouse, or lodging in a hostel, sailboat, or beach hut. Stays are usually at least one week in duration, allowing for a real local experience. "Work" can be anything from working with animals to help around the house. New members can register as a volunteer and/or host. Searches can be conducted by age, gender, nationality, work type, languages spoken, travel dates, etc. A feedback mechanism also exists for rating other members and leaving comments about their experience with one another. It is free to join and create a profile. Hosts are automatically upgraded to Premium status so they can contact other members. Volunteers may upgrade to a Premium Membership at any time for a small donation. Hosts may charge volunteers depending on their package/project.

Switch[edit]

# of members: unknown

Switch is a facilitator of home-for-home exchanges. The site is free.

Commercial[edit]

This chapter focuses on accommodation which the host will earn money with (per night). Often a commision and sometimes even an annual flat fee is charged by the website. For all costs, see the Summary below.

Booking.com[edit]

# of listings: 5,720,034 vacation rentals, 628,066 apartments, 145,094 guest houses, 79,349 BnBs

Booking.com is mainly a hotel reservation website for commercial purposes. However, it also offers many listings of private people, like vacation rentals, apartments, guest houses, and BnBs. Especially in remote regions, it can be of advantage over other websites offering similar places. Often places are listed on several places concurrently, like hostels on Booking.com but also on Airbnb, or private apartments on Airbnb but also on Booking.com.

9flats[edit]

# of listings: 6,000,000

9flats is a website for finding and renting other people's apartments in 104 countries around the world. It was founded in 2010 by a former executive of lastminute.com and has an active host community.

Airbnb[edit]

# of listings: 4,000,000[4]

Airbnb was founded after two San Francisco locals rented out their airbed during a conference that made it hard to find accommodation. The service enables members to rent out their spare house, apartment, room(s), or couch in exchange for monetary compensation. Members can read reviews left for other members and their accommodation. Accomodation can be searched for based on several parameters including specific neighborhoods, privacy, and price. The amount of interaction between the host and the guest varies: in some cases the host will spend a lot of time with their guests and in other cases, they will never meet at all. Airbnb collects service fees from both the host and the guest from every booking. If the guest damages the property of the host, the host may be eligible for reimbursement from Airbnb under its $1,000,000 guarantee. Many hotels, hostels and guesthouses use Airbnb, which makes it harder to distinguish between a "real" host and a hospitality business entity.

Misterbnb[edit]

# of listings: 210,000

Misterb&b was envisioned as a LGBT-friendly alternative to Airbnb. Co-founder Matthieu Jost had used services like Airbnb in the past with mixed results. After several uncomfortable experiences, Jost looked into starting his own alternative. The site is modeled on Airbnb. The main function of the website is to match prospective LGBT travellers with LGBT-friendly hosts in numerous cities throughout the world. The website encourages its hosts to make their apartments or rooms available during major LGBT events in their city. It also acts as a social networking service, travel guide, and community for gay travellers throughout the world.

Innclusive.com[edit]

# of members: unknown (Alexa ranking higher that ATC)

Innclusive.com, formerly Noirebnb.com, also aims to address issues of discrimination on other home-style platforms.

Affordable Travel Club[edit]

# of members: 2,400+

Affordable Travel Club is a bed and breakfast hospitality exchange club founded in 1992. It is for people over the age of 40. ATC is a community-oriented club with regular events. It is supported by staff.

Evergreen Bed & Breakfast Club[edit]

# of members: 2,000

Evergreen Bed & Breakfast Club is a hospitality exchange network for people over the age of 50 and is mostly active in the United States and Canada. There is an annual membership fee of US$75 and guests pay their host a nominal gratuity of under US$20/night. Registration is online. Members receive online access where they can search for hosts in locations they want to travel to and interact with Google Maps to help plan trips. There is also a Member Lounge for blogs, managing accounts and profile and classified ads such as Home Exchanges. The Club has paid-staff and a toll free number.

Mennonite Your Way[edit]

# of hosts: 1,700+

Mennonite Your Way is focused on Mennonites, although members do not need to be Christian to join. Hosts offer guests accommodation on a donation basis, but donations are recommended. The offline lists of hosts can be obtained by a recommended donation.

Noirbnb.com[edit]

# of members: unknown

Noirbnb.com aims to find a solution to the racial discrimination experienced while using other home-sharing platforms. However, the activity and volume of the website seems to be rather limited.

Knok[edit]

# of members: unknown

Knok facilitates home exchange and apartment rental for families traveling with children. New members pay a listing fee of $29/year.

Obunia.com[edit]

# of members: unknown

Obunia.com aggregates vacation rentals listed on other sites such as HomeAway and RoomORama.

WorldEscape[edit]

# of members: unknown

WorldEscape offers peer-to-peer short-term rentals focusing on unique and stylish accommodations in 40 cities around the world. Properties are hand-picked by WorldEscape representatives before being entered in a database organized by city. Booking service is very hands-on with WorldEscape managers on the ground in each of the cities that support both guests and property owners in person 24 hr a day, 365 days a year. This makes a huge difference on those rare occasions when things go wrong.

Zotel[edit]

# of members: unknown

Zotel is a website for finding places to stay around the world, with all properties costing US$40 a night. People the hosts don't know aren't allowed to stay in a property, but if you are in their "LodgingCircle" you can stay (people such as friends of friends are in your "LodgingCircle"). There are also quality standards for the properties, which include bathrooms cleaned every day, and the hosts showing guests how things like Wifi, TVs and laundry facilities work.

Summary[edit]

Free (or minor flat fee)[edit]

Name Link No. of listings/hosts Registration necessary? Cost/fees? Business model / financing Other services
belodged.com http://belodged.com Yes free advertisement, sponsoring
BeWelcome https://www.bewelcome.org <12,100 (supposedly active) Yes free volunteers, donation social network, event sharing
Couchsurfing https://www.couchsurfing.com 400,000 (active) Yes mostly free, premium €54/US$60 advertisment, premium accounts, venture capital social network, event sharing
Global Freeloaders https://globalfreeloaders.com 115,000 (supposedly active) Yes free donation
Horizon https://api.horizonapp.co 4,500
Hospitality Club http://www.hospitalityclub.org 328,629 (users) Yes free volunteers, advertisement
Pasporta Servo https://pasportaservo.org 1,350
Servas http://www.servas.org 14,000
Warmshowers https://www.warmshowers.org 71,281 (active) Yes free volunteers, donation

Exchange[edit]

Name Link No. of listings/hosts Registration necessary? Cost/fees? Business model / financing Other services
Green Theme International https://www.gti-home-exchange.com 1,575 Yes 3 months US$17, 6 months US$25, 1 year US$35 flat fee
HelpStay http://www.helpstay.com 1,000+ Yes €10 fee per stay + costs of host service fee/commision, donation
HelpX http://www.helpx.net 33,277 Yes €20 for 2 years (single and friends) flat fee
Home Exchange https://www.homeexchange.com 65,000 Yes US$150/year, €130/year flat fee, affiliation
Home Link https://homelink.org thousands of home exchanges Yes €140/year
HomeForSwap.com http://HomeForSwap.com 9,000 Yes US$70/year flat fee
Intervac https://us.intervac-homeexchange.com 4,017 Yes US$115/year, €110/year + potential rental fee flat fee, service fee/commision
Staydu.com http://www.staydu.com 3,619
Switch http://switchhomes.net
Workaway https://www.workaway.info 30,000+ Yes one person US$38/year (€34/year), two friends US$48/year (€44/year) flat fee
Working Traveller http://www.workingtraveller.com 1,700
Worldpackers https://www.worldpackers.com 4,446 Yes €49/year flat fee
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) http://wwoof.net 16,000 Yes £20 (intl.), US$40, AU$70, €20-27 (DE, FR) per year flat fee

Members pay an annual membership fee of US$75 and may receive a printed directory or access to an online directory. Traveling members pay a gratuity of US$15-30/night to their hosts.

Commercial[edit]

Name Link No. of listings/hosts Registration necessary? Cost/fees? Business model / financing Other services
9flats https://www.9flats.com 6,000,000 Yes (ad-hoc) service fee/commision
Affordable Travel Club http://www.affordabletravelclub.net 2,400+ Yes US$75/year, US$15-30/night/person flat fee
Airbnb https://www.airbnb.com 4,000,000 (incl. hotels, hostels, etc)etc.) Yes (ad-hoc) service fee/commision, venture capital event sharing
Booking.com www.booking.com 5,720,034 vacation rentals, 628,066 apartments, 145,094 guest houses, 79,349 BnBs No (email required) service fee/commision, advertisment, affiliation
Evergreen Bed & Breakfast Club http://www.EvergreenClub.com 2,000
Innclusive.com https://www.innclusive.com
Knok http://www.knok.com
Mennonite Your Way http://www.mennoniteyourway.com 1,700+ No US$30 for host list, US$10/nigh/person, US$2/meal (all recommended) donation
Misterbnb https://www.misterbandb.com 210,000 Yes service fee/commision, venture capital social network
Noirbnb.com http://noirbnb.com
Obunia.com http://www.obunia.com
WorldEscape http://www.worldescape.com
Zotel http://zotel.com Yes US$40/night/stay
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