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April 2015

MainStreet

There are four primary drivers behind the remarkable blossoming of the sharing economy, Luthy says. They include our urge to connect as human beings, the financial value sharing provides, the ability to answer travelers' increased concern with sustainability and being less wasteful, and to deliver on the search for unique experiences.

Travelers Win as Sites for Sharing Homes, Boats, RVs, Meals Thrive in Airbnb's Shadow

by Mia Taylor

If you've seen the movie The Holiday, starring Cameron Diaz, you're familiar with home swapping and how much more interesting and affordable it can make a vacation.

In Hollywood's version, the experience includes glamorous homes, unexpected and unique interactions with local people and businesses, even a dashing love interest.

In Debbie Wosskow's version it's really just the handsome leading man that's missing.

"You genuinely have experiences that money can't buy — authentic, local, different experiences — when you're staying in a neighborhood at someone's home or in a community, instead of in a hotel," says Wosskow, founder of what she calls the world's largest home exchange club, Love Home Swap. "I stayed in a spectacular one-bedroom warehouse apartment in a residential neighborhood of Sydney that was loaded with beautiful art. It was the kind of place I would have never normally set foot in ... and the owners gave me a guide to the neighborhood, including the best pilates studio and local farmer's market."

Established in 2011, Wosskow's Love Home Swap allows members of all backgrounds to swap homes — to date, more than 63,000 properties in 160 countries, reporting an average 33,000 swaps each year.

In addition to the unique opportunities and perspective one gets when staying in a local's home instead of at a hotel, there's also money to be saved. There is no cost to swap via Love Home Swap, just a fee to be a member of the site — ranging from about $179 to $628, depending on the level of membership.

Wosskow estimates that the site has saved users $100 million on travel accommodations to date.

One New York member reports saving nearly $100,000 during two years of membership by swapping with members all over the world for family vacations and business trips.

"There is a huge cost savings if you're going to swap a home rather then pay for hotel accommodations," Wosskow says. "So, yes, it's about cost, but it's also about life swapping. It's about putting yourself in someone else's skin and walking around in it."

It's also just one example of the booming sharing economy and its increasing influence on travel and how people vacation.

While Airbnb is the most well known in this burgeoning industry, the sharing economy has grown to include everything from swapping or sharing boats and yachts on vacation to private jets, recreational vehicles and bicycles.

The website Get My Boat, for instance, provides access to privately owned boats around the world, from sailboats in Sardinia to yachts in Turkey.

While not free like home swapping, this approach to accessing boats can cost as little as $40 an hour (or be glamorous and expensive, including the opportunity to sail aboard the yacht from the 007 movie The World is Not Enough.)

Sascha Mornell and Rafael Collado created the site with the mission of opening up the world of boating for renters and owners.

For renters, GetMyBoat provide access to a worldwide inventory without the headache of ownership. The site lists boats to rent or charter in more than 135 countries and 3,000 locations. The GetMyBoat smartphone app makes finding boat rentals near you or around the world equally easy.

For owners, many of whom use their boat only an average 8% of the year, GetMyBoat provides an opportunity to generate income and make ownership more affordable.

"Part of what drives us is being able to help create these micro entrepreneurs from boat owners," GetMyBoat spokesman Bryan Petro says.

The site is doing far more business then the founders expected, Petro says. In just a month, GetMyBoat processes about 100,000 reservations.Not to worry if you don't know how to sail a boat or captain a yacht — the site's offerings are for all experience levels. There are boat-chartering opportunities available, as well as bare-bones rentals for those who want to do it all themselves.

"We wanted it to be an open platform. We wanted to bring boating to the masses. And we rent everything from paddle boats to mega yachts. It really does cover a lot," Petro says.

Maxwell Luthy, director of trends and insights at trendwatching.com, says some of the other popular sharing websites disrupting the travel economy include Eatwith.com, VizEat.com, Onefinestay.com and Hovelstay.com.

Eatwith.com is a global community that allows participants to enjoy authentic and intimate dining experiences in people's homes, as is VizEat.Onefinestay offers accommodations in luxurious homes, while Hovelstay bills itself as the anti-luxury marketplace — offering everything from a hammock in Costa Rica to apartments in Hong Kong.

There are four primary drivers behind the remarkable blossoming of the sharing economy, Luthy says. They include our urge to connect as human beings, the financial value sharing provides, the ability to answer travelers' increased concern with sustainability and being less wasteful, and to deliver on the search for unique experiences.

"Traveling is all about the experience," Luthy says. "So in an era of abundance, you need to have the unique experience. And these sharing opportunities allow for that. You can have a dinner eating with a family in Vietnam ... Travelers can have a one-to-one authentic experience in almost any county, and it can be a luxury or budget experience."

RVShare, meanwhile, is all about connecting people with privately owned recreational vehicles that are not being used regularly. The average family's RV will sit unused for approximately 90% of the year, according to the company.

Enter RVShare and its impact on not only the way people vacation, but also how people view their assets.

"What the traveler gains from peer-to-peer RV rentals is options," co-founder Joel Clark says. "If they were to go to CruiseAmerica, there's hundreds of the exact same type of vehicles. Through RVShare you're working with private owners, and for many of them this RV is their second home, which means it comes with all the options and amenities that they have taken great pride in installing."

Peer rentals allow you to connect with a family or owner who has done the RV trip before and can help with all kinds of tips, insight and advice, Clark says. And because the site provides so many rental options, chances are it will save you money.
"While CruiseAmerica is just going to have their one price point, in our case you have numerous owners to choose from in your area, and all of their different prices," he says.

The RVs are typically picked up at the owner's home, but can be delivered to a campsite if requested. They can even be delivered to a sports stadium for a day of tailgating.

"Everybody knows Airbnb and Uber now. And the rising tide is raising all the ships in this space," Clark says. "People are seeing Airbnb and scratching their head and saying 'I have that RV in my driveway, I wonder if I can rent that? And then they search online and find us."

"The world is changing. It's about flexibility and options," he adds. "And anywhere in the country, through RVShare, you now have a whole suite of options and human beings who are going to work with you to plan your RV vacation."