With summer holidays around the corner, many people will soon be heading off to exotic holiday destinations. Many holidaymakers will pay to stay in expensive hotels and resorts while leaving their homes in the beautiful Lake Geneva region empty. There is, however, a way to put your empty home to good use, save money and enrich the cultural experience of travel.
Back in the 1950s, as part of a project to improve cultural exchange, the Swiss and Dutch Teachers’ Unions started the home-exchange revolution, according to Intervac International, a home exchange service. With globalization and the expansion of the Internet, this revolution has accelerated and looks set to stay.
Early movers such as Intervac International, HomeLink and HomeExchange have been joined by Internet upstarts such as Love Home Swap, Airbnb and Knok. Innovations, such as social media verification, now help an increasing number of people to take the leap and exchange homes with someone on the other side of the world whom they have never met.
The most common form is a “simultaneous exchange”, where you stay in your exchange-partner’s home while they stay in yours. There is also a “non-simultaneous exchange”, where second homes are swapped.
In a 2013 study entitled “My Home is Yours”, professors Francesca Forno and Roberta Garibaldi from the University of Bergamo profile users based on data from HomeExchange.
It turns out that this new generation of home-swappers is not that new. Some 94% are 34 or over and close to 50% have children. And while saving is a key motive, home-exchangers are not penny pinchers. Nearly 50% choose expensive holiday options such as staying in resorts and hotels when not home swapping.
So what are the main drivers? Interest in cultural heritage is top of the list at 98%. Ducking down to the local market to collect ingredients for cooking at home is not far behind at almost 70%. Not surprisingly trust is a key ingredient. A reassuring 75% say people are trustworthy. This could be the result of the positive feedback that comes from participation in civic organizations undertaken by nearly 60% of those surveyed.
For many, however, trusting people they have never met with their most prized possession is the greatest hurdle. Exchange services use a range of features to try to reduce these risks and help you get to know the other party. Verification of email addresses, phone numbers and social media accounts are the main ones. Reviews of those who have exchanged in the past are also important. It helps that the risk runs in both directions when making a simultaneous exchange.
Forno describes home exchanging as collaborative consumption. “People are turning more and more to models of consumption that emphasize usefulness over ownership, community over selfishness, and sustainability over wastefulness.”
A quick search reveals that Swiss residents are no strangers to modern home exchanges. HomeLink lists several hundred. For example, there is a three-bedroomed house on the shores of Lake Geneva complete with a Ford Mustang available anytime. A home to swap in Australia, USA, Brazil or Canada is the other side of the bargain. One Geneva family did a simultaneous exchange with one from Chicago, each leaving the other information packages of where to go, what to do, and how to deal with any potential house problems, such as a blown fuse. Another exchanged their secondary residence, a chalet in Les Diablerets, for an ocean-view house in Martha’s Vineyard.
So if you’re community minded, like soaking up foreign culture and taking your chances in someone else’s kitchen, and can get over the hurdle of trusting a stranger, then home exchanging could be for you.
Please comment below and share your experiences.