The new Holiday Exchange home swap network is open to the public. It launched in May, while much of the world was on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I haven’t been inspired to write much during this time of at-home lockdown. But I had to find out what led to this odd launch timing. So I talked with Mariana Vilnitzky (Maru), one of the founders of Holiday Exchange.
Holiday Exchange is not a typical home exchange network. Two things distinguish Holiday Exchange. First, it is a cooperative where the members are the owners and decision makers. And second, the population targeted for membership is primarily folks living in coop housing. Read more about the history and inspiration behind Holiday Exchange here.
My first question to Maru was “Why launch now, during a pandemic?” Maru explained that is was a financial decision. “I was in a program from Barcelona city called La Comunificadora, an incubator for community social projects, that required us to finish something. The program gives advice but not resources.” The Holiday Exchange team built the website using the Sharetribe platform. The first month was free, but after that it costs €150 per month. So they decided to launch publicly and start looking for people who will help cover this expense.
Right now Holiday Exchange membership is free. “We thought that during the coronavirus with a lot of people losing their jobs we have to be more flexible. At the same time we are asking people if they can pay for it, help us pay for the platform. We are all going to pay, so the more people we have the less we each need to pay. Some people in the cooperative movement say they can not share their houses right now, but they are paying because they want this to work. They want this to be there when they are ready to use it.”
The vision for Holiday Exchange has evolved over the past few months. They always saw the coop community as the core of the swap network. But learning from early outreach and organizing, the Holiday Exchange team narrowed their focused. “I realized we can not go to look for the people everywhere. We have to look for people who are looking for another kind of platform. Not just cheap or free, it’s certain people who want to know how it is to live in a coop. Or understand how it would be to live for a month in an eco village. It’s a different kind of exchange.”
So how are they going to recruit the coop communities around the world, most of whom know nothing about home exchanging? “I realized these people are not in facebook groups that have to do with home exchange. These people have never done home exchange so we have to open a door there. Going to the coops, speaking to the people one by one, and letting people know what it is and how it works. We are working on that now. The work right now is to go step by step. I will have a meeting with a coop here. They have 20 families there. In June we have a meeting of the International Cooperative Alliance and we will speak about this platform there.”
I wondered if members should be concerned about their part-ownership in this platform demanding lots of their time. Maru assured me that members can put in as little or as much time as they want. “With the technology it’s so simple. You can decide how much you want to be involved. You can decide to be a part of the council that meets every month and makes decisions about things that are happening day by day or you can just vote and that’s it.”
The member control of this network is a solution for those who don’t like the way existing networks make decisions. And I think the home exchange community overall will benefit if Holiday Exchange can succeed in their mission to get coop residents involved in house swapping. I look forward to seeing this new project develop.