Digital has a way of pushing the prices of everything down. Phone calls used to cost real money. Photographic imagery used to be highly priced and bespoke. We used to buy music; now it’s an option, not a requirement.
These easily digitized realms were the low-hanging fruit. Now we are seeing a similar effect on lodging: the pricing is free in many cases. First there was Airbnb which opened up a huge supply in the sharing economy and took on the hotels. Now, in the next step of decentralization and sharing, there are excellent services where one can stay not just cheaply, but free.
Take a service like TrustedHousesitters. If one has a pet and travels often, the previous solution would be a paid pet sitter or a kennel. With this service, a pet-loving traveler will stay in your home with your furry friend for free. They get what is essentially a free version of Airbnb, and the pet owner gets free pet care. Genius. Both sides get reviews and vetting for future exchanges.
We recently used TrustedHousesitters. When we posted our ad, we had 48 immediate inquires from which to choose. The pet minders we accepted were a professional couple in their 50s who had been doing this for over a year. Imagine not paying rent, staying in desirable places, and getting to be temporary guardian of a pet for a year? Amazing. For us, having the security of mind that a responsible couple was looking after our elderly Chihuahua in her regular environment was priceless.
The downside is the site is a bit lacking on the quality of user experience, but the customer support makes up for it. This sort of service also may not be ideal if one is traveling for business and is wanting to be a sitter, as it does require a certain time commitment depending on the nature of the pet. Our dog was high maintenance; a cat would be much easier.
If I were Airbnb, I would be paying close attention to this trend. Excepting the scale of supply, there is not a great deal of difference between what they are doing and what the free-exchange sites are doing. The disrupter is being disrupted.
Here is a list of some other sites that are similar:
There are many more of this type out there and, unlike TrustedHousesitters, they often work either as a straight up exchange, or as a barter points system. If the latter, the amount of properties in the network becomes key. More homes leads to more options for free places to stay.
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