Holidays for everyone, availability (financially and not only) ice

Sharing makes the world rich and (literally) opens up: this is the principle on which home exchange is based, a travel style (and lifestyle) that started in the 60s from the US and is becoming more and more popular also in Europe and in our country : despite the pandemic, almost 8,000 Italians signed up in 2012 for the first and most important home exchange platform, Home exchange, which records an increase of 119% compared to 2020 (but 31% less than in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic). In total, almost 84,000 overnight stays in Italy in 2021 took place in houses made available via the sharing platform: a sign that this way of traveling is starting to take hold in our country, after being tested in the 1960s and in the following decades, especially by the teachers: It was actually two of them, David and Mary Ostroff, who had the idea to make a list of all the colleagues with whom they could change residences during the summer holidays. Gradually, the lists became longer and became printed catalogs that are distributed in many networks associated with the concept of home exchange, also called barter. Word of mouth, the concept also spread to many other teaching circles in the rest of the United States and the United Kingdom. Today, with the economic crisis, rising prices, job insecurity, this tool is discovered and used above all by families, including those with disabilities: In fact, among the various groups of HomeExchange travelers, there is one dedicated to those with mobility problems, who here have the opportunity to search for and choose a house that is fully accessible and even equipped in a functional way that suits their needs, reducing the costs that availability often still incurs.

Social Editor asked Jessica Cambou, communications officer at HomeExchange, to tell us more about the strengths and perspectives of this way of traveling “for everyone”.

What are the principles and values ​​of this model?
There are six basic principles in our hospitality: First, “being well received is the promise of welcoming”: we provide the opportunity to be hosted before the host. And feeling welcome in a home should precisely lead to the return of this welcome for logistical reasons, albeit with a different family. The second principle is communication: the desire to welcome someone into your home and do so with joy is the condition for a successful exchange. And for this to happen, it is necessary to have communicated, created a relationship, explained the reasons for the exchange: getting to know each other before hosting is a basic step. The third principle is the joy of hospitality: We do everything to make our guests feel at home. In addition to the necessary amenities, there are the small movements, without any obligation, that are sufficient to make an exchange more comfortable and personal, such as a welcome word or a small gift. The fourth principle is “sit down and travel like a local”: whether you stay a whole month or just a weekend, there is nothing better than the advice and indications received from those who are hosts to enjoy the local life. The fifth principle is “thank you is never too many”: “thank you” is important before, during and after, because the exchange is free, so even a little attention can make the difference: for this reason it is customary to leave a note and a gift in the house that hosts you. Finally, the sixth principle is “our differences are our common foundation”: We are all different, so it is essential to convey all information and rules to the guests so that they feel comfortable and take care of the house.

Is there not a risk that the proliferation of this model will exacerbate the crisis in the tourism sector, which has already been tried with two years of restrictions?
Tourism is one of the most powerful industries in the world, but also one of the most destructive to the planet and its people. We believe it is important to act now, as a company and as a society, to make better choices and take steps to reduce our impact on the environment by promoting more responsible tourism. Unlike traditional tourism operators, we preserve the environment by avoiding superstructure and tourist saturation in crowded areas. By definition, home exchange allows you to take advantage of empty houses during your holiday, thus mitigating the negative impact tourism can have on the environment. Since home exchange is not economical, it does not encourage oversupply of real estate, which is thinking of people who can no longer afford to live in their city. Furthermore, far from promoting a standardized tourism that destroys ethical values, the exchange of housing adds value to local tourism and promotes a more equal and circular tourism. This solution also allows travelers to invest their budget in favor of local businesses such as businesses or restaurants, thus promoting a more equitable economic distribution.

What are the “weaknesses” or “diversities” that find a place in your offer?
Within the platform, it is possible to subscribe to specific groups of travelers, such as families with children, or those with disabled members, or LGBT travelers or the elderly. HomeExchange is a community of respectful travelers who are committed to welcoming guests from all over the world. Discrimination has no place on our platform, which promotes diversity and inclusion in our society based on trust and respect. We have recently set up an LGBTQ + group following many requests from our members: the group currently has around 22,000 members. Daniel says in his testimony: “It is clear from my profile that I have a partner of the same sex, and all the experiences I have had with him have, without exception, been positive. I certainly look at a house of greater interest if it has that brand, and I can understand why gays prefer to exchange with other gays: knowing that you will feel safe and welcome when you first arrive counts a lot. “

Who changes homes today?
Mainly families with teenagers or children, but also couples who no longer have children in the home, or who have not had children, as well as single travelers and pensioners. With an annual price of 149 euros for an unlimited number of exchanges, our proposal is available for all types of families and all types of budgets. We have a way of saying: “Every house has its partner for exchange”: a small apartment in the center of town, a house in the mountains, in the countryside or by the sea? Whether members are tenants or owners, all homes are welcome on our platform. If you feel comfortable in your home to live there, then someone on the other side of the earth or nearby will love spending a few days there. Who would not want to come to your home for free? It is also for this reason that more and more people are changing their homes: On our platform alone, there are today only over 450,000 around the world!

Any prospects and plans for the future?
We believe that home exchange already has every opportunity to be simple, especially with our GuestPoints system, which gives our members greater flexibility, with the possibility of making non-reciprocal exchanges. The best way to make housing exchange even easier is to continue to democratize and normalize this type of travel: to show as many people as possible that it is not just an alternative to traditional tourism, but a real way to experience accessible travel. regardless of the size of their dwelling, their location and their economic and social conditions. Our goal is to grow this community, to offer more and more travel opportunities, everywhere, for everyone.

Chiara Ludovisi

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