NightSwapping is a new concept in sharing economy lodging combining hospitality hosting like CouchSurfing, home exchange systems, and peer to peer rentals like AirBnb into one system. Members can earn lodging credits by hosting visitors, or they can purchase night credits (up to $45 per night, significantly cheaper than most other lodging options). Growing quickly, the NightSwapping network has 110,000 members, of whom 30,000 have host listings. They recently added insurance as a free feature on all stays for both the host and the guest. I reviewed the NightSwapping website recently and then had the opportunity to learn more about this unique concept from Josh Hibbard, press relations for NightSwapping.
A new concept in sharing economy lodging
ShareTraveler: The model of NightSwapping is different from traditional home exchange networks, can you tell me about the inspiration behind the NightSwapping system?
Josh Hibbard: This is an important question that is asked frequently. So I like to give this quote from NightSwapping founder and CEO Serge Duriavig, “It was at a dinner party with a couple of friends that the subject of house exchange was brought up: no need to pay for accommodation, same comfort of home, instant cultural immersion. I was immediately won over and experienced it 3 times. However finding the suitable place, at the convenient date and in a home of the same standard is actually a complicated and lengthy process. I therefore thought up a new concept that would break down all the constraints of existing home exchange platforms, and this is how Nightswapping was born!”
ST: What didn’t work about the existing networks that compelled the creation of something new?
Josh: Nightswapping solves several problems that travelers experience when using the sharing economy to find accommodation. The first is flexibility. NightSwapping allows you travel when and how you want. The second security. Some of the other existing sites do not verify the identities of their members or offer any sort of insurance. The third is the implications of renting. The purchase of nights allows members to use the NightSwapping network without offering to host guests themselves, but hosts never receive any money, just night credits.
ST: Do you think this will address the legal concerns about peer to peer rentals like AirBnb?
Josh: As a host,when you collect money you enter a legal grey area. More and more cities are introducing policies to address this. The two most common accusations are that 1) Your landlord has a sublet clause in your lease agreement that forbids you from renting the place to others or 2) You are acting as a hotel by renting out your place and are not paying the affiliated taxes that hotels pay. NightSwapping is legal because it is not seen as a sublet–there is no transaction between users. It is the same as if a user was hosting a parent, a friend, or a friend of a friend. With NightSwapping there is no risk of tax misconduct. Unlike other rental websites, NightSwapping users don’t need to declare income taxes. It’s all about sharing. NightSwappers aren’t looking to make a profit off each other.
ST: Is the NightSwapping model competing with couchsurfing type websites or home exchange websites or airbnb type websites?
Josh: Couchsurfers like NightSwapping because it is more secure. AirBnb users like NightSwapping because NightSwapping is more cost effective. I don’t see the three sites as competitors as much as I see them as a cluster of websites changing the way people consume travel accommodation. If someone tries one of the websites and has a good experience, I think that increases the likelihood that they will try one of the others. The NightSwapping model is unique, but it is more like CouchSurfing and Home Exchange than it is like AirBnb. NightSwapping, CouchSurfing, and Home Exchange share the same genuine spirit of sharing. With AirBnb users exchange money, and that’s the most substantial difference between us.
Quality over quantity
ST: I know you read my post about being deactivated from NightSwapping. Is this a common thing that is happening with members who have listings but reject all requests?
Josh: We don’t have an automated system for hiding listings, we hide them manually. There isn’t a cut and dry protocol because each situation is different. If a host is denying requests regularly, but doing so with a reply, we will send them a message asking the host to update their calendar. If a host denies requests a couple times without replies, our customer service team will usually send a warning to the host asking them to communicate better. If a host is getting several requests and denying the requests without responding, we will probably hide their listing immediately. When it comes to our accommodations, we believe quality is more important than quantity. Listings can always be reactivated, and you can still travel with NightSwapping even if your accommodation has been hidden. That is why 10% of our hosts have had their listings hidden like you experienced.
ST: Have you considered printing response rates or acceptance rates?
Josh: It is important that our hosts reply to their messages. When a user searches for accommodation on NightSwapping, the results are listed in chronological order with beginning with the hosts who were logged into our site most recently.
Rapid growth and challenges
ST: With just 30,000 out of your 110,000 members signed up as hosts, is this a good ratio for meeting the needs of travelers using NightSwapping?
Josh: Our growth is almost unexpectedly fast. Our number of hosts will without a doubt increase, and travelers are looking forward to that. I think it is normal for a site like ours to have more travelers than hosts. Our concept still works because different people travel at different times. If someone does have trouble finding an accommodation, I suggest reaching out to our customer service team. They do a great job connecting people.
ST: What proportion of your members who host are offering a full home compared with those offering a room in their home?
Josh: 60% of our hosts offer a room and 40% offer the entire home.
ST: Do you see any interesting patterns in what people are looking for from NightSwapping?
Josh: Everyone is different, and that is why NightSwapping is so flexible. Some people like to host so that they can travel for free later. Some people host because they like to meet people from different backgrounds. The same applies for the guests. Simultaneous swaps do happen. In Europe we have a feature called “Weekend Swap” where travelers in select locations stay in the home of one another on the same weekend.
ST: Can you tell me about the current geographic distribution of your hosts?
Josh: We currently have hosts in 160 countries. We started in France, so Europe has the most dense concentration of hosts. 10% of our hosts are in the United States.
ST: How long are typical stays on NightSwapping?
Josh: There’s no minimum or maximum length of stay for NightSwapping. An average stay is about two or three nights.
ST: Your growth is tremendous, but for all the members you’ve facilitated relatively few swaps. Only about 2% of members have actually travelled using NightSwapping. What are the biggest barriers to people successfully finding a swap?
Josh: We are enjoying the growth very much. Our growth demonstrates the superbness of our concept. We are a new company, and most of our members are new. Like with anything I think the first time trying something new can be a little bit more challenging. But from what I’ve observed, once a member has hosted, they don’t hesitate to host again. By the time our members finish their first reservation they are confident and ready for to do it again. Our goal is to reach 200,000 swaps by 2018 alongside a membership count of 1 million.