Holiday Exchange co-op plans to revolutionise the platform economy

A co-op wants to enable people to swap homes and enjoy affordable holidays.

Taking time off to recharge or get away can help to improve our wellbeing, avoid burnout and ensure a better work/non work balance. A new platform co-op based in Barcelona aims to make it easier and more affordable for people to just this by swapping homes.

While home exchange holidays have been going on for years, the Holiday Exchange Cooperative aims to be the world’s social economy home exchange platform. This means that the co-op will use 50% of surpluses to fund social and solidarity economy projects with another 25% going back to members through lower membership fees. Members who wish to keep paying the same membership fee to support more projects can choose to do so.

The co-op also pledges to promote the exchange of housing in a way that respects the environment and spreads responsible tourism.

How would this work in practice? Users must pay a registration fee, which will entitle them to have access to the platform and make secure exchanges for one year, following which they can renew their membership. Active users can also become members of the co-op and have a say in how it is run and control over their data. The co-op pledges not to transfer this to third parties, unlike other platforms.

The secure technology platform will provide a range of exchange options from houses and apartments to boats, caravans and motor homes. It will also enable users to exchange cars.

Users can agree to direct exchanges, which involve allowing each other to use their homes and, potentially, cars, with total freedom. This can be either at the same time of the year or at a different time. In an indirect exchange, a user is received by a host, who does not return the visit, but acquires the right to be received by another user.

“The Holiday Exchange Co-op could be a wonderful tool for co-operators around the world,” says Mariana Vilnitzky, one of the founders of the platform. “Through home exchanges we can meet people in situ, like visiting co-housing communities or eco villages.”

She thinks holiday exchanges are great for families because they can use another family’s home and children have a room full of toys to play. “It’s much easier, it’s the best option when travelling with kids.”

As journalist, Mariana has been active in the social and solidarity economy in Spain and currently writes for the magazine Alternativas Económicas. Having formerly worked for the International Organisation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CICOPA), she has also been involved in CoopRoute project, an itinerary of co-operatives whose activities significantly contribute to the preservation and the development of their area’s cultural and industrial heritage.

As a user of holiday exchange platforms for years, she says the idea for the platform co-op came after growing disappointment with the concentration of platform ownership within the sector. Users can have their data passed on to the company acquiring the smaller platforms without being able to influence how the business is run. It is also common for home exchange platforms to have a points system, which means that different homes will have different values. Consequently, some platforms’ users now receive points for someone staying at their home but those points may not be enough for them to qualify for a swap with that person or someone else in their desired location.

“The relationship has changed a lot,” says Mariana. She has recently returned from the Platform Co-operative Conference in New York – where she stayed at a friend she had met through a holiday home exchange. “I created friendships for life. I learnt about those who came, it was a different experience. This has been lost now so I decided to set up a new platform.”

She was frustrated that she was contributing her information and her home but didn’t have any control or input. She joined efforts with other users and the Holiday Exchange Coop is now in the process of raising funds to develop the platform.

“A co-op cannot be sold so our data will be safe,” she said, adding that due to her background in co-ops she is keen to work with others in the movement to promote the project.

“Someone in a housing co-op in the UK can go to a cohousing community in New York or Canada and they could exchange knowledge, living in another house for the period of the exchange,” she said. “The housing co-operative movement can show to others who are not living in a housing co-op what that’s like. We can learn a lot from each other and make friends all over the world,”

Like other platform co-operatives, the Holiday Exchange Co-op is faced with the challenge of raising the start-up capital required to build the platform; developing the platform alone would require €300,000. An initial business plan created with support from Barcelona Activa, the city’s business development centre, estimates the co-op would need at least 4,100 users/co-op owners paying €120 a year in order to be able to break even.

Holiday Exchange Co-op is currently registered as an association but will convert into a multistakeholder co-op in which employees will own 40% of shares, with the remaining shares split between individual members and potential investors, who in Catalunia can have up to 25% of voting shares.

“The more consumers we have, the less investors we’ll need,” said Mariana. Those interested in the project can register interest and sign up to receive updates from the co-op here.