Love Home Swap UK has been described as the “Airbnb for grown-ups”. It lets people exchange their homes for vacation purposes. Debbie Wosskow, CEO and founder of the company, explains how the Sharing Economy works and how it will evolve in the future.
Mrs. Wosskow will talk more on the topic at the Global Female Leaders Summit 2017.
Mrs. Wosskow, in 2010 you started your company Love Home Swap. Can you tell us a bit about its premise and business model?
Love Home Swap was founded 30,000 feet in the air on my way home from a particularly bad, and very expensive, family holiday, sitting in a small darkened room, eating room service while my tiny children were sleeping. With a little inspiration from The Holiday, the ultimate home swapping film, I had the idea of Love Home Swap. It is now the leading home swapping group in the world, with over 100,000 homes listed in 150+ countries.
Love Home Swap runs as an annual subscription model: people can list their home, take out a two week free trial and then join on one of three membership levels – after which they can swap an unlimited number of times during their membership for no extra cost. With home swapping, you go to theirs and they come to yours. It’s as simple as that.
With the rise of the alternative accommodation space it was the right time to bring something new to the market, and Love Home Swap has been described by Conde Nast Traveler as the ‘Airbnb for grown-ups’.
“We’ve seen an explosion in the alternative accommodation sector over the past 12 months, as more and more holidaymakers look to stay in homes rather than for traditional travel options.”
Love Home Swap is only one example of the many companies that facilitate what we now call the sharing economy. Why do you think businesses like yours work so well, especially in the Digital Age?
Members love it because they go online, flirt for an amazing home swap and get to stay in stylish and often quirky properties – it’s like online dating for homes. It’s the alternative to the off the peg package holiday. There’s something to suit everyone’s taste and style, from cosy homes to the truly breathtaking ones. Plus there’s no hefty hotel bill at the end of your stay. We’ve seen an explosion in the alternative accommodation sector over the past 12 months, as more and more holidaymakers look to stay in homes rather than for traditional travel options.
For Love Home Swap members, it’s exciting to think that your empty home can open up amazing travel opportunities. Love Home Swap members travel more and for longer than average holidaymakers because it’s not costing them very much. Our members save an average of 90% on their accommodation fees (£2,750 per trip). It’s a much cheaper way to travel, and you get to stay in some truly stunning homes in the process.
You are chair of Sharing Economy UK, a new trade body that represents the UK’s sharing economy businesses. What are the goals of this organisation?
Sharing Economy UK (‘SEUK’) champions the UK’s sharing economy industry. SEUK is a nationwide trade body representing the country’s most influential sharing economy businesses, along with game-changing start-ups, across a spectrum of sectors. Representing the sharing exonomy community, we work closely with the government, lobbying for changes to protect consumers, workers, and sharing economy businesses. The ultimate goal is to position the UK as the home of the global sharing economy.
Key successes include the introduction of the Sharing Economy Allowance in 2015, which provides tax relief for ‘micro-entrepreneurs’ working within the sector on platforms such as Airbnb and TaskRabbit. Another highlight has been the launch of the Sharing Economy TrustSeal – a world-first to ensure that sharing economy companies act with integrity and maintain professional standards.
“5% of people in the UK are technically freelance. What does that mean for the way that people work and get paid?”
Last but not least, what do you think will be the medium to long term impacts of disruptive business models? If constant and fast-paced change is the new normal, what does it mean for the economy as a whole?
PwC predicts that the UK’s top five sharing economy sectors might reap £140bn in transactions by 2025 (a 20-fold increase on today’s £7bn). Importantly, 87% of this is due to go directly to the ‘microentrepreneurs’ using platforms such as Airbnb and Etsy. The sharing economy represents a real opportunity for women to work flexibly, particularly when they may not be able to have a full time job due to family and caring responsibilities, and so this is a huge potential uplift for national productivity.
One of the hot topics right now is the notion of the status of workers on platforms and what that should be. At the heart of these policy conversations is that we are moving to an environment where even now, 15% of people in the UK are technically freelance. What does that mean for the way that people work and get paid? What does it mean for the tax man? What does it mean for the platform? And what does it mean for the status of the gig economy worker? It seems that there is a new way of being employed which is being a platform worker, somewhere between being completely self-employed and being employed. Do we need a third status of employment? If we can find a way to define that, and to really think about what responsibilities a platform should bear, that will really help to move things forward.
In the longer term, I think the term ‘sharing economy’ will become reasonably irrelevant over the next decade, as we see big business embracing sharing or ‘on demand’ models, as well as the core principals of the sharing economy, namely the notion of access over ownership. We’ve seen a start to this trend already, for example with JustPark and BMW’s partnership and Accor Hotels acquisition of One Fine Stay. I think as sharing economy businesses scale, they’ll just become another way of businesses targeting their consumers.