The concept of Hospitality Exchange, also known as “accommodation sharing”, “hospitality services” (short “hospex”), and “home stay networks”, refers to centrally organized social networks of individuals, generally travelers, who offer or seek accommodation without monetary exchange. Generally, these services connect users via the internet.
In 1949, Bob Luitweiler founded the first hospitality service called Servas Open Doors as a cross national, non-profit, volunteer run organization advocating interracial and international peace. In 1965, John Wilcock set up the Traveler's Directory as a listing of his friends willing to host each other when traveling. In 1988, Joy Lily rescued the organization from imminent shutdown, forming Hospitality Exchange. In 2000, Veit Kuhne founded Hospitality Club, the first widely known Internet-based service (many others existed since the late 90s but never reached the high number of users that HC reached). In 2004, Casey Fenton started CouchSurfing, now the largest hospitality exchange organization.
How they work
Generally, after registering, members have the option of providing very detailed information and pictures of themselves and of the sleeping accommodation being offered, if any. The more information provided by a member improves the chances that someone will find the member trustworthy enough to be their host or guest. Names and addresses may be verified by volunteers. Members looking for accommodation can search for hosts using several parameters such as age, location, sex, and activity level. Home stays are entirely consensual between the host and guest, and the duration, nature, and terms of the guest's stay are generally worked out in advance to the convenience of both parties. No monetary exchange takes place except under certain circumstances (e.g. the guest may compensate the host for food). After using the service, members can leave a noticeable reference about their host or guest.
Instead of or in addition to accommodation, members also offer to provide guide services or travel-related advice. The websites of the networks also provide editable travel guides and forums where members may seek travel partners or advice. Many such organizations are also focused on "social networking" and members organize activities such as camping trips, bar crawls, meetings, and sporting events.
Some networks cater to specific niche markets such as students, activists, religious pilgrims, and even occupational groups like police officers.
As these networks provide accommodation at no charge, monetary savings can be significant.
Hospitality exchange gives travelers the chance to experience what life is like for people living in other places. In addition, making interpersonal connections and fostering understanding of different cultures may in the long run also be important to international relations. During hospitality exchanges, hosts may show off their local knowledge and exciting places “off the tourist map”. Not only may travelers get a distinct experience, but they will also get a feel for the everyday lives of local residents.
These systems foster richer and more convenient travel experiences not so much on the premise of altruism, but on the basis of social exchange theory. Implicit in the agreement to host travelers is the ability to ask to be hosted by them in the future. If one enjoys having interesting guests in their home, this works out well for both parties. It works comparatively better if you are visited by travelers from a locale you find particularly attractive. Thus, hosting someone from New York City in Gainesville, Florida seems to be an unbelievable opportunity. Moreover, if you are a Westerner visiting someone in a developing country, your stay might be the only way that this individual or family could afford a trip to a rich nation. This may mean more than just a relaxing vacation for such disadvantaged parties.
Accommodation sharing reduces the demand for hotels, which, depending on the location can be detrimental for the environment.
Lack of guarantee
There is no contractual agreement between users in these systems. Reservations are made, but if they are for some reason broken, there is no higher authority to which one could plead for a refund or other compensation. The only repercussion will be the poor rating you give that user and your only consolation will be that your warning will deter others from visiting or hosting them. For those who feel insecure unless their travel arrangements are written in stone before departure, this system will not be comforting.
Potential interpersonal conflict or awkwardness
There is a chance that guest and host will not get along. Perhaps there will be scheduling or ideological conflicts. Maybe you will find that hosts or visitors have misrepresented themselves. Perhaps the experience will not live up to your expectations. Intense interpersonal communications in advance and a flexibility once you have arrived is your best bet. These experiences require additional planning and courtesy towards the demands of your host. Thus, your living conditions, length of stay, and overall experience will be circumscribed by the living conditions you enter into.
Digital divide and demographic segregation
As use of these services generally requires access to the internet and knowledge of the English language, the sample population found in searches of these databases is really much less diverse than a geographical representation of worldwide users might suggest.
Staying in someone's house, or inviting people into your house leaves open the possibility of being taken advantage of.
There are countless websites that serve the idea of hospitality service, with new ones appearing as this phenomenon becomes more popular. While this page is not intended to be a directory listing, here is a small sample of the well-established and long-standing networks:
- CouchSurfing - A very active network with over 1.3 million members in more than 200 countries
- Hospitality Club - A very active network with over 550,000 members in more than 200 countries
- Servas International - human rights and global peace oriented since 1949. A relatively small network now with over 15,000 members(?) with a very long history.
Some networks offer specialised hospitality services. There are at least 15 (specialised) hospitality services.<ref>HospEx - Hospitality Exchange Networks Overview</ref>, here are some examples:
- Lesbian and Gay Hospitality Exchange International ;
- Warm Showers - Hospitality network towards touring cyclists;
- Dachgeber - Hospitality network towards touring cyclists in Germany with about 3000 members. (See our German article Dachgeber.)
- Pasporta Servo - for Esperanto speakers;
- WWOOF - "Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms", help on the property is exchanged for food, accommodation, education and cultural interaction;
- HelpX - "Help Exchange", help is exchanged for food, accommodation, experience and cultural interaction;
- Homeshare International  -- charity organisation providing exchange of housing for help in the home.
- Ridester -- ride sharing for travelers.
- This article is based on an article from Wikipedia, available under the Creative Commons ShareAlike Attribution license.