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New forum / feature: accommodation exchange?

Travel Forums System Talk New forum / feature: accommodation exchange?

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1. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 7y

I'd like it a lot if TP offered a channel for non-commercial accommodation exchange between users.

Haven't given much thought to the implementation, but it could either be something basic like a dedicated forum (maybe a sub-forum to travel companions?), or something more sophisticated.

Obvious questions to be answered

  • Would this make a suitable and useful addition to the services currently offered on TP?
  • Would this make a sensible addition to the site (I'm mostly thinking of adverse effects on revenue from regular accommodation searches, and liability issues)?
2. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin 5588 posts) 7y

To be honest, I like this idea a lot. And have liked it ever since I first found out about couchsurfing in 2004 or so. It would fit really well within the community of Travellerspoint I think. I even contacted them back in the day to ask if there were options for partnering in some way. The problem really as I see it is, do we want to add this on as another service when there are already a few sites out there doing this. You really need some level of scale to make this useful, and we'd be starting this feature from pretty much scratch. We'd have an advantage to anyone just starting it from scratch, but different features attract different members, so you can expect lots of existing members to just immediately sign on for this. Most of the features we've added have been the type where we were one of the first 3 companies to launch it or they can work really well/be useful without having scale from day one. Or they have a permanent level to them that will be useful for a long time going forward (like the guides).

Liability is a concern I guess, but that surely also applies to couchsurfing now that it's bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

In short, I'd love to do something here, but I'd want it to actually be useful too, so some kind of partnership with an existing company would be fantastic. If CS offered an API for example, can you imagine the cool combinations that could be whipped up?!

3. Posted by WebGuy (Full Member 106 posts) 7y

Maybe the scale at which your thinking this is a little to large to start off with? Yeah CS has a huge DB and they've got a solid Back-end to help, but I also think it's a little rough around the edges in finding spots to surf at...

Something that could be implemented with some ease, is add an option to the profiles where a user can tick of they have accommodation available at their home. If they choose this option, then said user would need to fill in which City they are in to help others narrow down searches.

Then for users who are looking for places to stay, they can start by selecting the Country they are in and then city. Have the DB query the users table and first look for the have accommodation var and if its set, then query the location to see if available. A simple radius function can be implemented to look for accommodation in surrounding cities as well.

Once some of the items get ironed out in this, you can then link the accommodation to the Map plotter much like you have the "See Accommodations" link that is displayed when larger cities are selected, but label it TP Surfers or something easily identifiable.

Of course some forms will need to be generated to help the accomm avail, and request accomm along with some specifications and guidelines, but I think this place can easily do this with some more input and planning.

[ Edit: Edited on 23-Jun-2009, at 13:34 by WebGuy ]

4. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5597 posts) 7y

I like the idea as well.

I think Niels' idea of just having a separate sticky forum thread about it (or something) would be useful to start with. TP members could just have their wishes thrown in over there, and other users could invite them. Maybe it's too simplistic but it could be a start, just to see what the 'tp market' would be doing?

I am looking for a couch on Antarctica

5. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 7y

Another way altogether to implement this (but I don't know whether that would be possible or even wise) is make it possible for TP users to put some relevant information on their profiles, and make these searchable through the regular accom interface already in place, including 'hospitality exchange' as a price range.

6. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin 5588 posts) 7y

Okay, so we like the idea :) I think if we do it, it should work 'properly', so something like what WebGuy suggested, ie. a tick box that you are happy to offer up your couch to others. When ticked, you'd have to fill in your city of residence (obviously). There's a few spots available couches could then be shown:

  • wiki city guides (kind of obvious)
  • accommodation area (again, pretty obvious, but not sure if it's able to tie in with an availability search, so the properties might have to show in a different format, ie. side bar with link to more or some such)
  • separate area that just brings up these similar to how you go through travel helper list etc.

The request is generated through the internal messaging system similar to travel help requests.

I think an availability search is probably overkill as it means the hosters have to continuously enter their availability. There could be an option to just quickly say the couch is currently not available (holidays etc.), but nothing too fancy.

Any other ideas?

Anyone think this is a terrible idea?

Of course I also have to run this by Pete and see if/how/where we can slot this in in terms of existing current developments that are ongoing. Only so many hours in a day :(

7. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 7y

Imo, it is essential for hosts to be able to indicate future availability. As most people tend to arrange accommodation in advance, rather than last-minute, current availability is not overly useful. If it's not included in the search, at least include a little calendar thingy on a host's information page.

Second: limit the number of requests per day that a guest can make. We don't want hosts in popular destinations (like Amsterdam) to be flooded with requests. Personally, I'd also want to exclude budding members from using this service (to prevent people from signing on to TP just to drop their hospex requests), but I don't know if that would be possible.

[ Edit: Edited on 24-Jun-2009, at 01:00 by bentivogli ]

8. Posted by WebGuy (Full Member 106 posts) 7y

I think an availability search is probably overkill as it means the hosters have to continuously enter their availability. There could be an option to just quickly say the couch is currently not available (holidays etc.), but nothing too fancy.

I agree. The option which is ticked in say, their profile, signifies them as being available. But on the other hand I also agree with bentivogli. I think a lot of travelers, like myself, like to plan things out ahead and may want to be able to request accommodation in advance so they can plan the trip accordingly. Someone's may have availability this month, but they may know of a vacation of their own being planned in the future. I think that maybe when a user sets they have availability at their home, implement a calendar where they can set a to-from date. This could help users plan their requests and the people hosting also let others know when they have availability. Once the "from" date is reached, a function to automatically turn their availability off. The "availability" of course all plays into how pro activeness the hosts are in keeping their availability up to date as I am sure some will keep on point about it and others may just forget it's turned on.

I also think in order to protect both the host and requester, there needs to be some sort of verification or parameter set. I'm all for couching it up, but if we get newbie users registering and then either hosting/requesting, there's a bit of disconnect in the trust aspect. When I did my change of address, I had to submit a $1USD charge to a CC so that it verifies that my name and address where it's billed to is actually me. Maybe something like this can be implemented to help both parties establish some kind of trust. If this isn't an option, then maybe set a post count limit before someone can start to request a couch to crash on and vice verse for hosts. But I don't think "Budding Members" should be excluded because that's not fair to them. It takes what, 100+ post to move out of that stage and unless your a post whore, it will take time to reach that amount.

Maybe add an option to the users display on forums much like the "Budding Member/Respected Member/Moderator" etc... If they have availability, show that option under their name or with an icon. And then also if they have hosted before, show the x-number of times they have hosted someone and let users comment on their experience with host or the traveler. If either had a bad experience or represented themself negatively, let others put a comment and neg/pos rating to warn others. And to be fair, rate their overall on a ratio factor... If a user has 5 positive crashing comments, and 2 negative, then he/she has an overall of +3 positive rating factor. For the user display, maybe something along the lines of this:

9. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin 5588 posts) 7y

All good points and a lot of food for thought here. Going to have to sit down with Peter and see if we can fit this in in some way development wise. There's about 100 things on the to-do list, so no promises. But it'd be fantastic to see here on TP!

10. Posted by t_maia (Travel Guru 3290 posts) 7y

Something that could be implemented with some ease, is add an option to the profiles where a user can tick of they have accommodation available at their home. If they choose this option, then said user would need to fill in which City they are in to help others narrow down searches.

I am on a cycle-touring website where it is done exactly like that.

The search option there is done by city, but since the site is mostly in German city that's more than enough. On TP I would do it by country. There might be some TP members who live in a neck of the woods where very little tourists go to, but which is interesting nevertheless. (One of the problems of Couchsurfing is that CS members who live in Paris, London, Berlin etc get more requests than average, some have stopped replying to requests altogether because the novelty of having strangers in your house has worn off.)

Since it is already possible to list TP members by country through the search function, maybe you can extend said search function? Currently the results are listed member name, real name, citizen of, living in. It would be cool if there was a 5th result that said whether the member was willing to host other TP members.