Though it has flown largely under the radar for years, home exchange is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to conventional vacation accommodation, and is starting to get a lot of mainstream exposure, thanks to the new film “Holiday” starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, and a spate of recent publicity on shows such as Today and MSNBC.
To get a handle on the phenomenon also known as house-swapping, inTravel Magazine talked to several people involved with it to get a fuller picture of who is doing it and why.
According to Ed Kushins, president of Home Exchange, one of the top three home exchange services worldwide, house-swapping is a great idea for people who want to visit a country or a region, but don’t want the expense and hassle involved in staying in a hotel.
“It’s like being at home when you’re away,” he said, noting that home exchange gives people flexibility that they wouldn’t have in a hotel. “You can make your own meals instead of eating out all the time, and you have more room to spread out.” For those traveling with small children, house swapping also eliminates the necessity of bringing a boatload of stuff across an ocean or a continent.
Home Exchange, which has been around since 1992, has about 14,000 members on its books, about 40% of whom are based in the United States, and 60% abroad. Their website is translated into six different languages to cater to its international clientele.
Kushins says that the type of people who do home exchange has shifted somewhat in the ten years since he’s been in the business. “The demographic used to be primarily married retirees and teachers, but now it’s a mix of everything – young couples, families with children, and singles,” he said.
Home exchangers also tend to be very committed to the practice. Kushins says that many of his clients do multiple swaps throughout the year. “The trend is for people to do one long trip abroad, usually for 2 weeks or so, then do shorter weekend trips within their country at other times of the year.”
Kushins said that many of the people on his site are cross-registered with the two other major home exchange services, Intervac and Homelink, to ensure that they get the widest variety of possible choices. But he doesn’t mind the competition, and says that he is friendly with his competitors.
Though no one knows exactly how many people worldwide participate in home exchange, Jessica Jaffe, the owner of Intervac USA, another popular home-swap service, thinks that it numbers in the tens of thousands, if not more. She said that she did not know of any organizations that track statistics on home exchange, but that it is probably on the rise.
“In the days before computers, we used to print catalogs of our listings, and people would contact each other by mail,” Jaffe said. “Now the internet and e-mail has made it much easier and quicker for people to link up.” It’s a no-brainer to conclude that this probably explains much of the growth in home exchange, although Jaffe suspects that a lot of her clients come to Intervac through word-of-mouth.