Is hospitality exchange just free accommodation, or does it really create cultural understanding?
IntroductionHospitality Exchange, also known as "hospitality services", "accommodation sharing", and "home stay networks" often refers to centrally organized social networks of individuals who trade accommodation without monetary exchange. While the concept of free accommodation could also include house swapping or even time share plans, it is associated mostly with travellers and tourists staying with one another free of charge. The polish sociologist Paula Bialski even calls it "emotional tourism", because meeting locals indeed involves a lot of emotions and maybe this is exactly how it differs from the classical mainstream package tour.
Since the 1990s, these services have increasingly moved away from using printed catalogues and telephone lines, but members often use Internet websites. These have grown exponentially since 2000 and as of March, 2007 over 650,000 people are registered users of these networks, which vary in operational structure, layout and geographic focus.
However, Hospitality Exchange is far more than just accommodation. Some members do not offer a place to stay, but also provide dinner, a guided tour, tourist information or will help find a cheap hostel or alternative means of accommodation. Also those travellers who face most difficulties - like handicaped people - find great opportunity and help in networks like BeWelcome, where members can both invite travellers with wheelchairs (according to the accessibility of their place) and use the search function to find the very same hosts.
Motivation and quality of social networkingWhy do people join social travel networks? The basic motivating factors for membership - and they very much influence the quality of later social exchange - include:
- to meet locals and to gain an insider view
- to meet interesting people
- to save money through the offer of free accommodation
- to get contacts, pursue effective networking
- the wish for flexibility and freedom of choice when travelling
- to improve language skills
Opportunities, risks and limitationsBut what are the opportunities, risks and limitations of how Hospitality Exchange Networks can influence the quality of social exchange between host-guest relationships?
The opportunities include
- to discover culture and traditions through the eyes of a local
- promoting peace
- an understanding of cultures which can remove stereotypes and misunderstandings
- broadening of education
- make people care about situations and conflicts in other cultures
- make them realize differences and help overcome them
The risks include:
- incomprehension, misunderstanding and stereotype thinking based on individual experiences with members
- generalization of culture according to experience
- failure to cope with confrontation of different habits and customs
- "Black sheep" abusing the network (burglary, spam or dating)
The limitations include that:
- these networks mainly address open-minded and curious people
- a high level of tolerance is needed
- members are not representative for entire culture
- access may be excluded to some part of the community : lack of technical equipment, old people, financial resources, social prejudices
Factors influencing the quality of exchange within hospitality and culture exchange networksBased upon those motivations the main factors which influence the quality of exchange have been identified to be:
- the need to be ready and willing for interaction with other members
- time availability
- an open and positive atmosphere within the network
- a friendly approach of members resulting in interest and curiosity
- the mutual seriousness and effort put into the process of establishing contact between two members
- an un-judgmental approach towards other cultures
- A common ground facilitating successful communication
BeWelcome: one project, many target groupsBeWelcome is a project open to many different interest groups and backgrounds. Leisure travellers, business and expats travellers, scientists, local communities and the tourism industry as a whole - all take advantage of BeWelcome.
You want to know more?