There’s a new project in the home exchange world that you probably haven’t heard about yet: Holiday Exchange Cooperative. It’s a departure from the standard home swap model, and has the potential to grow into something huge, integrating cooperatives internationally with the broader home exchange community. The idea is to bridge these two communities, while creating a home exchange network that is owned and controlled by the members.
Recently I had a chat with one of the founders of Holiday Exchange Coop, Mariana Vilnitzky (she goes by Maru). She explained that Holiday Exchange is just in the early stages of development right now. But they have big plans for this new coop project.
Tell me about what inspired Holiday Exchange
I’m a very old home exchange user. I love exchanging. The moment I found this it changed my whole life because it changed the way I do vacations. I was with HomeExchange.com and it was working great for me. I decided, this is my place.
But then last year they changed everything without asking the people. I have been in coops all my life, and I have been working in the international cooperative movement for more than 15 years. But here I don’t have the power as a consumer; they can change things without saying anything. And they are buying others and they become kind of monopolistic. As a consumer I don’t like it, because we are not free as users. For me as a user this was not good.
Coming from the coop movement I thought, why don’t we just dream a bit. Of course we got into something that is really difficult to do. But if we don’t do it we will never know. And I think it could become something good.
We have been speaking with a lot of people. When you work in a coop sometimes it takes more time. I think the final product is better but it takes more time. It’s better because it’s more democratic and people feel like it’s theirs because they help build it. We can make it happen if we work together.
How does home exchange relate to the coop movement specifically?
If you are in a housing coop in the UK and you want the experience of living in a coop in San Francisco it’s an exchange within the coop movement. This is good for the coop movement: people from different coops can exchange and learn from each other and at the same time they can show the coops to the world. People not living in a coop can learn about how it is to live in one. In the international coop movement there are a lot of people waiting for this to happen.
What features can we expect to see on Holiday Exchange?
We will put in a system to do exchanges that are not direct. One of the people who works with us is a mathematician and he is working on a system for this. How do you make it so people don’t pay to join and then get free lodging for 15 days and then quit and never exchange or host? We are creating a platform with a system where people won’t be able to do this.
Will you charge an annual fee?
To join as a cooperative user, and become an owner of the platform, a registration fee must be paid. If you don’t pay the fee you are no longer an owner of the platform and cannot vote and participate in the decision making. We are working on this issue, and we have the experience of other consumer coops that are helping figure it out. We are going to propose something, but people can vote also. People who work there need to be paid and unfortunately the tech work is very expensive. And we know we don’t want to do a bad job.
We are not going to be rich. We want to earn enough to pay regular salaries, and be very transparent for everybody. After that if we earn money we want to give it away. A lot of us are very ecological, but we are traveling and using airplanes, so we have to somehow give it back to the atmosphere. So we are going to put that money in for the climate problem we have right now, and for also creating another kind of economy.
How does Holiday Exchange address sustainable tourism?
We are working to create another kind of tourism. We are going to give the money back to the communities. We want to support the local businesses. We are tourists but we want to be more than that.
We want to be very respectful with the people where we are visiting. For example, here in Barcelona it’s full of tourists. But there are some places that need tourists to come. For instance there is a very good restaurant that works in the Museo Marina. It’s a wonderful restaurant, the food is amazing. They provide jobs for people who are marginalized by society. They are having problems letting people knowing they exist, so we can help make them visible. This is one of the things that is very important in the platform that we are creating.
Where is this project at right now?
We are building the community. Right now we are speaking with organizations more than with people, to ask them to help us with the campaign. We are going to a lot of coop organizations but also NGOs from many countries are very interested in this. If we start the campaign before we have the community created we may not get the amount of money that we need. So the best thing is to have the community and the network and then start the campaign. Right now, we are working on creating a community capable of funding the platform. The whole project requires about 300,000 euros to have a good quality exchange system webpage.