Meet and Stay with Locals All Over the World

Monday 12 June 2017, by Ariadna Pons, Jordi Caballero, olga de la torre

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A. The main facts about the activities of the company.

Couchsurfing is an online platform created to help travelers in tight budgets to find accommodations all over the world. In the online platform you create a profile stating whether you are offering a space to sleep or looking for one. Then, when a traveler is in a specific city she can look for a place to sleep and request it, then the host can accept or decline her.

The company also works for the achievement of the community spirit between their users: they organize meetings between them on their cities and also you can work on the project only providing some time to share with your visitor. They want to make possible a valuable connexion between people and make sure that everyone who want to express their generosity can do it in some way.

To us, the values of the company are inspiring: they are looking for a way to make different cultures and communities more close and to build bridges being more respectful with the cities. Being able to share our culture will make us a more tolerant and global community.

It is calculated that around 12 million people are using it at the moment and in more than 230,000 cities. They also have 37,000 downloads in the Android App Store. Thanks to the new technologies and being an internet focused company only about 60 people are needed to run this company. Since its online presence is their most important asset it is natural that most of their employees work either in marketing/media (to ensure the growth of the company on the web) or in web development.

Since it’s an ethical company they did not lack the support from volunteers who met up and helped to make successful the project of the company.

The monetization model is still very simple. The only way the company generates revenue is by offering the possibility of being a “verified user”. To use this feature you only need to pay a small fee of about 20$ to get this special status which provides a signaling to ensure you are trusted and helps you to find a place to stay easily and also some practical benefits such as 24/7 support and unlimited messaging in the platform.

So, so far they are not being focused on making money since they raised a significant amount of money to start their business and they are now putting all their efforts in growing and connecting as many people as possible. In the future they will think further on how to make more money. This means that this ethical business is not yet highly profitable but has the base to be sustainable in the long run.

B. The Ethical challenges this company is addressing.

The first issue they are dealing with is to achieve a new and more sustainable tourism model more respectful with the locals and less disruptive with their day-to-day life. How are they doing it? To begin with, one of the main problems with this tourism issue is that proliferation of touristic residences are driving prices of housing up, making them not accessible for the people in the area. The houses of the cities are meant for people to live in them, we do not think it is the goal of the city to become a gigantic hotel. So, with Couchsurfing, since money is not the factor driving the “transaction”, rent prices should not be affected. On contrary, might attract some of the demand that otherwise would have gone to a touristic flat. At the same time it encourages proximity commerce since the kind of people who is using the platform is likely to buy something or go out in the area they are sleeping, increasing consumption in the neighbourhood.

Secondly they are as well facilitating the cultural exchange between people from different places making it more accessible for low-budget citizens. Travelling is a gift that should be available not only to the rich ones. We believe cultural exchange is important to help spread mutual understanding and fight prejudices making the world a more tolerant and generally a better place. This is definitely necessary on a more globalized world.

Also we should be aware of the role the Company has on addressing the environmental issue: The touristic sector on the classical trend has the characteristic of big consumption of energy and water. Our affirmation is supported by data showed in audits of the sector. For example, in a touristic city as Barcelona the hotels system consumes between 3.900.000 and 5.600.000 m3 water per year, representing the 10-15% of the non domestic total consumption of the city. Also they consume per year 206,6 GWh of electricity, the 6,3% of the total demand of the services sector. Finally it is surprising to know that they produce the 2-3% of the total waste of the city (source: Guia d’Hotels més sostenibles, Ajuntament de Barcelona 2009)

These numbers make sense if we take in account all the facilities and services that an hotel room provides ( air conditioners, extra illumination, mini bar..). All this services are not necessary to enjoy a city and know new cultures. Couchsourfing offers an alternative to this disproportionate consumption of environmental resources, since in a common house the use will be the standard of a family, only the necessary and no more. For all of this we think that the company gives a environmental respectful model of tourism.

C. What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it?

Couchsurfing is a collaborative company. They have shown us another way to do business is possible. The people who offer the house are not making money from that, they just want to help others to travel. The business is based on the generosity spirit from volunteers.

We trust them because we see their business model is based on facilitating the free exchange between those who have a couch and those who need it. This will continue like this because it is the core of the business, at some point they will need to make some money, but we don’t believe we are just in front of a typical “lock-in” strategy so they will need to find an alternative way in order to not destroy their own business model.

D.The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

Since it is a community based company, reputation is really important. They need to be sure that everyone behaves as real human beings since one single scandal might make a lot of people stop using it. So, they need to be sure everyone understands how the company expects you to behave when you are abroad and how you should treat your guests.

Another important issue is related with data. With the past of the time the company will gather a lot of data regarding your traveling patterns and where you have been. More than likely some big companies and even the government will want to have a look at these numbers, the company needs to stay strong in his position and respect user’s privacy at all cost.

Also, it is important to note that this system defies the very basics of our capitalistic society. People is sharing their “goods” at no cost, something that hotels and other profit-driven companies will not like. It is important therefore to be able to handle the pressure they will surely face and all the blackmailing they will be object of. We can expect (and it is already happening) strategies from big hotels companies to ask regulation on the activity Couchsourfing is doing. In other words, those companies will use their influence on the local and regional administration to try to damage Couchsurfing’s business model.

They should prepare their model to handle taxation and legislative pressure, at least their activity will not be forbidden if we take into account the growth of these kind of business on Internet that look for the collaboration between users. So, our company only has to be ready for changes but we do not think their future will be broken by the Government policies.

This means that new legislation and taxing systems could affect the core of this business and even threaten their own existence.

Bibliography CV 2011/Guia_Hotels_CAT.pdf

Sector: Accommodation and food service activities

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