The editor of Terabithia Press, the Spanish journalist Eduardo Fernández García (Madrid, Spain), spent a week in Paris during Christmas for work but also to enjoy, slowly, the most visited city in the world. He had been hosted, for free, thanks to the Home Exhange method, an initiative that seeks for a new kind of tourism in which people respects the environment and becomes aware of their impact on the community. Last day of stay: warm meeting with Charles-Edouard Girard, chairman of the exchange platform, who talks about the essential elements of a more responsible and sustainable journeys. Here you have an informal interview with the visionary entrepreneur who created and developed the ‘guest-points’, a man who democratized travelling mainly in US, France and Spain.
- An upward travelling trend, which was put on hold during the pandemic, allowed travelers to multiply short stays during the year. Express trips are very destructive —explains the chairman or the platform Home Exchange—. On the other hand, longer trips have many advantages. More relaxed, enabling time to immerse yourself in the local culture and enjoy its unique offerings. —Your travel dreams can be compatible with the desire of limiting your environmental impact and to act in favor of a more local tourism and economy —he says.
- To disconnect from everyday life and release the pressure, the most important thing is to gain a fresh view, but that doesn’t necessarily mean going to the other side of the world, nor spend lots of money to find a hosting. Home Exchange team explains that we usually think we know everything about our surroundings, yet our own back yards are full of wonders and opportunities for adventure. It is quite possible to be surprised and amazed by unfamiliar areas only an hour or two from home. By choosing a nearby destination, you can boost the local economy and save time and money. Also, the choice of transport is wider and more likely to be low carbon. And if you fall in love with the place, it will be easier to go back again when it’s just a short trip nearby! Home Exchange has about 450,000 homes all over the world, so you can find a home in a capital city or in the middle of the mountains. More than 100,000 home exchangers make it possible. It’s cheap and easy. The platform membership is 145 euros per year, and it allows you to look for your favourite destination and enjoy your dreams house for free, lending yours. Afraid of that? Why? It is safe, pretty safe. Listen to Charles-Edouard! Maybe you become today a new member of a global privileged group. I already am, and I feel greatly excited for the discovery.
✎ Eduardo Fernández Terabithia Media / Paris / France
—Hi Edouard, nice to meet you! We are namesakes! Or do you prefer me to call you Charles? First of all, now I will try this way of travelling in another spot again for sure.
—Both are fine. Charles was my mother’s choice, but my father wanted Edouard. They never found one solution. So, they said, “Okay, we can do both!”
[Talks Charles-Edouard, president and founder of Home Exchange, a French-based technology company now working around the world. He received me not far from my host near the Saint Louise metropolitan station, but I preferred to walk, while breathing early in the morning and discovering other multicultural neighborhoods of Paris. The coldest 2022 morning, but still incredible pedestrian movement. At every step, I try to soak up the customs of the city, and enjoy it, gently. Paris is always so alive, so magnificent. Love is all around.]
E.F. —Well Charles, you’re Home Exchange’s soul, the new mainly trend for travelling… How did you come up with the idea? Why without paying accommodation and only using guest-points?
CH-E.G. —I have to go back to the past to explain what Home Exchange is now. To be clear, my partner, Emmanuel Arnaud, had the original idea. [Arnaud combined his first passion, sustainable development, with his second one, traveling, and devised something that would revolutionize the home exchange market: the creation of a point-based system to organize non-simultaneous housing exchanges] We both built Home Exchange after, you know. At the beginning, we created Guest to Guest and it was the first ‘home exchange website’ that uses a system of points. For example, Emmanuel tried to organize an exchange in Firenze (Italy), but even if some people had de possibility to host him, they rejected it as they were not interested in visiting Paris. It is based on the idea that if you have an accommodation of my interest, you can host me so as to accumulate points that, afterwards, will enable you to travel whenever, wherever, you want”. Emmanuel believed that this was the only way to develop the concept.
—People wants to travel for sure, but I imagine there are a lot of situations, for many reasons, that it’s not possible to organize reciprocal exchange of homes…
—Exactly. That was the handicap, but we looked for a solution. For example, in my case, during summer I always want to leave Paris, and go somewhere else in France. But French people is normally not interested in going to Paris at that time of the year. However, many people from other continents are, so I ended up receiving some African people and using the points to go to a french location. If we wanted to truly develop the concept of exchanging, we needed to create something like the ‘guest-points’ and reinvent the business model.
—How does the platform work?
To access the platform you have to subscribe to a 145 euros fee per year. The great innovation is that you can see the home listing before you pay, so you make sure there is a destination you are interested in. Also, we make a difference in caring about how the exchange goes. We have created some trust safeguards: first, we verify all the profiles. ID card and a proof of address is required to create the guarantee.
For example, if someone has a problem and cancels your stay, we make sure you get another host. In case we are unable to find another, we will pay accommodation for you. Also, even if no damage has ever been done in any host house, we will cover it in case it happens.
This story of success started in the early ’90s with the rise of the internet and personal computers. HomeExchange.com revolutionized the experience by becoming the first organized home swap service online. In 2006, the Nancy Meyers romantic comedy “The Holiday,” starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Jack Black, featured the site in a blockbuster. This much-loved romantic comedy considerably increased the awareness and popularity of Home Exchange, as a true pioneer of the sharing economy. Emmanuel Arnaud, passionate about the concept, and Charles-Edouard Girard, convinced from the very first exchange, launched the Guest to Guest Home Exchange platform. The time had come to offer a viable alternative to traditional travel accommodations. Based on the fundamental principles of trust and free hospitality, Home-Exchange offers the opportunity to travel in a personal and authentic way.
—And then the growing became in success…
—I think so. And thanks to these three innovations, the guest-point, the business model and the guarantee, we started growing progressively. We built a first website, and then we bought a Spanish one called, Home Forum, when we detected that exchanges between the two countries were in high demand. Finally, we also ended up buying two French sites, an American and a Canadian, and merged them in one brand by the year 2019.
—Home Exchange has the aim of a global brand, every person anywhere can understand the message…
—Nowadays, we are the biggest website in the world: we have more than 100,000 members. And we achieved it by increasing the trust level, partly thanks to the word of mouth. Whenever an experience finishes, you can leave a message explaining how everything went. If members see many positive reviews, they become more and more encouraged to embrace this model of travelling.
—Could you give me some insight about how the motion restrictions due to the pandemic affected the business model?
—It was not that complicated as it seems, as a large proportion of our members actually traveled locally. During the harsh restrictions, all the exchange happened within the country. We only declined a 10%. And so, in 2021, the recovery arrived.
—It’s the same for sure, I think it’s a good way to get to know other corners on the Slow Travel path. Places even not renowned. The way to discover other cities or landscape territories all over Europe, even in a local area for us, reducing the time and cost of the trip, and because the rental is free, the trip is cheap and you have enough money to try the food, to do local shopping, to meet people…
—Yes, we are pretty less expensive than almost every other way of travelling, but also more sustainable. You are not there just to sleep, but to live and to meet the people who live there, and to spend more days in the place, not just a weekend. Also, if visitors buy in local businesses, they are more likely to continue to maintain their activity in the long run.
—Home Exchange is part of the larger context of sustainable tourism, but it is not without impact, you said. Which is the average of the stance? Is it one key to be sustainable?
—Around six days, because for us is very important to promote slow travelling, as transportation is the worst part of tourism, due to carbon emissions. Also, we embrace the idea that you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world (especially several times a year) to discover new cultures and landscapes. We try not to promote very remote destinations. In case you really want to go very far, we recommend staying a longer time, so you have enough time to visit every spot and you don’t have the need to come back.
For me the future of tourism, involves longer stays and enjoying the country in a local way, soaking up the culture and socializing with the people.
—Do Home Exchange’s travelers take more care about energy and goods consumption? When someone stays in a hotel, they are not concerned about how much water or air conditioning they waste…
—Exactly. People usually don’t care about that in a hotel: they use one towel after another and another, when in fact they can be used for a whole week. When you are invited to someone else’s house you are more careful with the waste and respectful with the neighborhood.
—Tell me, please, your best story traveling with Home Exchange
—Yes, it was the first time doing an exchange, and I went to a home near La Rochelle [western coast of France]. I switched houses with Elisabet, who just got divorced. She didn’t have any money to travel, but she really wanted her daughter to see Paris. She had a really nice home, with a beautiful garden, that I enjoyed so much. After the exchange, I continued receiving emails from Elisabet, where she expressed her gratitude because without Home Exchange, she couldn’t have shown Paris to her daughter.
—Thanks a lot Charles-Edouard, for your time and for your great idea! See you soon in Madrid, at home. Or anywhere...
—For sure Eduardo, you’re very welcome. Merry Christmas in Paris!
HomeExchange is the world leader in home exchange vacations. With over 450,000 homes in 159 countries, discover an affordable, authentic and safe way to travel the world. For very special stancies this platform has developed ‘Home Exchange Collection, The community of luxury homeowners‘
Discover how you can exchange homes for your next vacation in the following link:HomeExchange: How it works – HomeExchange
The Guest-Points system was developed to facilitate the organization of exchanges: thanks to Guest-Points, traditional reciprocal exchanges (you go to a member’s home and they come to yours) is no longer the only option! Each house is automatically assigned a number of Guest-Points based on various criteria (facilities, location, number of beds…), and when you arrange an exchange, you give your host the number of Guest-Points assigned to their house, multiplied by the number of nights you will be staying with them.