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Home-swapping grows as cost-saving travel trend with local flavor

1 of 4 | Photographer Heidi Kirn said she’s used HomeExchange many times in New York City, Ireland and Oregon. Photo courtesy of Heidi Kirn
Feb. 1 (UPI) — Although it was popularized by the 2006 film The Holiday, home-swapping has been around since the 1950s. Now it’s booming as travelers seek ways to save money while exploring new destinations through a local lens. Home-swapping was started informally by teachers and professors looking for cheap alternatives to spend their summer months. In the past three decades, the idea has been picked up by entrepreneurs and relaunched as services like Homestay, Couchsurfing, Homelink and HomeExchange. Advertisement
HomeExchange CEO Emmanuel Arnaud told UPI global subscriptions to the service have jumped 50% over the last year. In the United States, the company has seen a 34% rise in people trying out the service.
The company says it has 150,000 members across 145 countries.
Globally, exchanges in 2023 were up 54% compared to 2022 and nearly 190% compared to 2021, mainly due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Arnaud said.
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Arnaud started out as a customer of Home Exchange in 2010, using the service in his home country, France. But he became frustrated when he couldn’t find anyone in Florence, Italy, who wanted to swap for his home in Paris.
That led him to start GuestToGuest, which uses a points-based system, in 2011. In 2017, that company merged with HomeExchange.
“We’ve seen really strong growth over the past two years,” Arnaud said. “It’s a part of the travel revenge trend, but people are also looking to save money due to global inflation.”
Heidi Kirn, who lives with her family in Kennebunkport, Maine, said she’s been home-swapping for almost a decade, calling it “an amazing experience.” Kirn said she and her family participate in a couple of exchanges every year.
“I found out through an aunt who had exchanged for a month abroad in Europe, so we tried it when the kids were young and went to Arizona,” she told UPI. “We were on a very tight budget and I don’t think it would have been possible without the exchange. Buying the food and cooking at home made it all manageable.”
Kirn said new home-swappers have to put in the work to find the right matches, but it pays off when you connect with a similar family on the platform.
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“It’s important to be up front about the exchange you have and the one you want, in addition to getting to know your guests,” she said.
ThirdHome, a home exchange service specializing in luxury properties, has attracted 16,000 members across 103 countries since it was founded in 2010.
Dan Cranney, senior vice president of growth, said the company was tapped for a reality TV show, Millionaire Holiday Home Swap, which shows in the United Kingdom, Australia and other European markets.
Coming out of COVID-19 restrictions, Cranney said, there was a record number of second homes purchased in the United States, pushing new owners to seek out ways to monetize their properties when they weren’t in use.
Markets such as Hawaii, Florida, Colorado ski properties, New York, Southern California and Southern Europe have all seen an uptick.
“There has been a steady shift in the upscale travel market where people would rather explore and visit new places rather than go to the same place again and again,” he told UPI. “Members are looking for destinations that offer hiking, food and experiences to make memories, not just a really nice house all the time.”
The average property booked on ThirdHome is valued around $2.7M, but has properties and yachts up to $50M that members can book.
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Due to the membership process on home-swapping sites like ThirdHome, Cranney said there’s a built-in trust among members, compared to traditional renting.
“A significant number of our members choose not to rent their homes because they are selective about who stays in their residence. They appreciate our platform due to the reliable community we have established,” he said.
Susan Kubes, an avid home-swapper for almost seven years, said she’s done simultaneous exchanges at a Villa in Casares, Spain, for six weeks, a home in Carmel by the Sea, condos in Pasadena, Calif., and a home in Chicago.
She has used accumulated points, gained by hosting guests, to visit places like Blanes, Spain, and Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
“This year, we are returning on home exchanges to Longboat Key, Siesta Key and St. Augustine in Florida and Carmel by the Sea in California,” she said.
Kubes said the cost savings have been the biggest draw.
“We like staying in homes with a kitchen and multiple bedrooms, so we don’t have to eat every meal out and can invite friends and family to visit,” she said. “The cost to me is a yearly membership fee, which is equivalent to one night’s hotel room.”
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But, she said, other costs can factor in, such as house cleaning fees, pet care or snow removal.
Arnaud said that for many years, his company’s biggest user base was empty nesters or retirees, who could travel fairly often. Recently, they’ve seen a younger demographic signing up, including families and younger people discovering the concept via social media.
“Many members who have experienced an exchange also tend to say that the authenticity of the experience is a huge draw,” he said.
“Members often make lifelong friendships via exchange, they leave one another recommendations for the best things to do and see during the trip, and really get to experience the destination as if they’re a local, rather than a tourist.”

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