A few weeks ago I wrote about The Great Divide in home exchange. This is what I call the Traditionalists vs. The New School of home exchanging. For the most part, the home exchange networks offering points-based swapping, insurance, and other similar features represent The New School. While Traditionalists prefer the old fashioned one-to-one exchanges with a hands-off swap network. Of course this doesn’t describe everyone, and I personally fall somewhere in the middle.
I am quite sympathetic to the viewpoint that exchanges directly between two parties represent the spirit of home exchange. That personal interaction often leads to friendships, and also engenders more trust. But I also enjoy the flexibility of points-based swapping. So in this post I want to talk a bit more about why I think The New School isn’t all bad.
The positive side to points and insurance
Points based swapping opens up more home exchange opportunities for more people. With traditional home exchange you need to find someone who wants to visit your home town, who lives in the place you want to visit. And then you need to negotiate agreeable dates for both parties. With points you can host someone from Australia while staying in a home in New York. It’s more flexible. I agree with those who prefer a non-variable points system. One point (or 100) per night makes more sense to me. And it’s closer to the concept behind a one-to-one simultaneous house swap. But without points this flexibility is lost.
Five years ago I did an analysis of response rates by home exchange network. It had some surprising results (though a small sample size). I found that points-based network members are just as responsive as traditional network members. That doesn’t mean they are as friendly, or hospitable, or trustworthy. But it’s an interesting datapoint.
Insurance that covers damages and also provides money for alternate lodging in case of cancellation should make people feel more comfortable doing home exchanges. The host is covered in case of problems with their exchange partner. And the guest is covered in case of last minute cancellation. I personally think insurance is generally unnecessary for travel. And even less necessary for home exchange. But many people are afraid of home swapping, and perhaps insurance will set their minds at ease. This could bring more people into home exchange who are hesitant to open their homes to strangers.
The HomeExchange network is targeting newcomers
HomeExchange is a for-profit company. Most home swap networks are trying to at least make enough money to cover costs. And this includes paying staff a fair salary. Let’s not pretend these services we get are worth nothing. If you want an all volunteer network, there are a few of those to join (i.e. SwitcHome). But it’s fair to expect more services and support from paid networks. Overall I think I benefit from these services. The problem arises when these networks put profits over the interests of members.
Some people are saying that Emmanuel Arnaud, and the HomeExchange network in general, are just in this for the money. I am unhappy about some of the recent actions, mis-steps, and communication failures by HomeExchange. But after interviewing Emmanuel three times I believe he is passionate about home exchange and his goal is to expand opportunities for house swapping to many more people. (Here’s a link to my first interview with him and his more recent interview discussing the merger.) And I believe he represents the ideals of the company in general. Though I admit there may be other investors/interests behind the scenes that I don’t know about.
The way HomeExchange is going about this, offering coverage for damages and cancellations, and with points based swaps, may attract different people from those who traditionally joined home exchange networks in the past. I think that’s actually their goal. Making home exchange accessible to more people may indeed make it seem riskier to the traditionalists. That’s a fair disagreement with the HomeExchange network philosophy.
I’m sympathetic to the traditionalists who want to keep home exchange purely for direct swappers who are willing to do the hard work of finding exchange partners, and often making friends for life. I see how that system engenders a greater trust in the experience. (Although I have heard bad stories – messy guests, falsely advertised homes – from the direct exchange folks too.) And so I understand why some traditionalists will leave the HomeExchange network in search of a group better suited to their goals and ideals. I think there are a lot of great options out there.
I’m staying on HomeExchange
As a successful user of GuesttoGuest prior to the merger, I’ll be staying on the platform for now. In part this is just due to the size of the network offering so many opportunities for exchange. You can find stories of many home swaps I have done with the network on this website (hosting guests, and staying in Brussels, Paris, Santiago, and Lisbon just to name a few more recent GuesttoGuest swaps). I also have accounts on other home swap platforms, and I will continue to do exchanges on those other networks as well.
GuestPoints make home exchange easier for me. It suits my current travel needs because I often establish my dates and destination before searching for a swap. I think it’s fair to say that traditional home exchanges are more likely to result in building personal relationships between swap partners. But overall I find myself connecting with most of my swap partners and ending up with friends around the world whether it is a points-based or simultaneous exchange.
HomeExchange did a bad job with the integration. And I am still disappointed in the poor communication to members, now more than a month later. I hope HomeExchange will learn from their mistakes. And I hope they will be cautious about their growth plans, carefully considering ways to preserve the spirit of trust and kindness that is essential to house swapping, while bringing new folks in to the community.