Sharing spirit makes for a great holiday

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:00 13/01/2014
Sherry and Warwick Bishop
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
HERE: Nelson home swappers Sherry and Warwick Bishop, who have done seven exchanges through the HomeLink online service.
Sherry and Warwick Bishop
OVER THERE: Heidi Schaaf, right, shows Anne Cardiff from Nelson around Austria’s capital Vienna.

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Smart holidaymakers are swapping houses, saving accommodation costs during trips overseas and within New Zealand.

One online exchange describes it as "the best-kept secret of these tough economic times".

In New Zealand, HomeLink's membership has grown from 80 to more than 400 over 13 years. They are part of an international membership of 14,000 offering homes all over the world.

Nelson has 27 active members, who have made repeated home exchange trips overseas, and in return Nelson is a popular destination among foreign visitors.

HomeLink NZ director John Martin said the scheme brought between 1000 to 1200 people to New Zealand, and they often stayed for more than a month.

He countered criticism that they were taking business away from commercial accommodation providers. "I suppose we are competition to some extent, but I don't think these people would come here if not offered a home.

"These people travel up and down the country. We believe we help New Zealand tourism by supporting other tourist operators."

The home swap idea is also catching on within New Zealand.

HomeLink Local was set up 18 months ago for home swaps within New Zealand and Australia, with a $130 fee, $100 cheaper than the international fee.

Mr Martin said it was doing well and growing, attracting people who no longer wanted to travel long-distance to Europe or the United States, as well as those who were tentative about the scheme and were trying it out.

Experienced home swappers are enthusiastic about the benefits, which including swapping cars, so they don't need to pay for car rental.

Mr Martin and wife Valerie spent three months in Europe in 2012, and estimate that what they did not need to pay in bed and breakfast costs and car hire saved them $17,000.

Roger and Juliet Duncan of Richmond, who joined HomeLink in 2009, have made two trips to Britain, and last year went to Europe. Their accommodation included an apartment 10 minutes' walk from the Louvre in Paris.

"We would not be able to go on these extended holidays if we did not have these HomeLink opportunities," said Mr Duncan.

They budgeted £6000 ($12,000) for a 12-week holiday in Britain but came home with £3500 ($7000).

"There are all sorts of reasons people swap. Ours is to see the world and not break the bank," Mr Duncan said.

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The Duncans have enjoyed their experiences, including staying in an apartment building run by a housing cooperative in Berlin.

While they have decided not to go overseas this year, they will have exchange couples coming to their home. These include Portuguese visitors who have arranged 12 consecutive exchanges in New Zealand from Queenstown to the Bay of Islands over four months; a French couple; and a Queenstown couple on their first exchange, who will be arriving later this month. The Duncans will take off in their campervan during those stays.

Neville and Anne Cardiff, who joined HomeLink in 2006, have made visits to France, Italy, Austria and Australia.

They say the bonus from living in homes rather than hotels is enjoying more of a local lifestyle. They have now become friends with their European exchangers.

"I would recommend it to anyone, because you have wonderful experiences and sometimes you go somewhere you had not thought that you would," said Mr Cardiff.

Their eight-hectare property at Hope has been a drawcard for city people wanting to enjoy the outdoors.

Warwick and Sherry Bishop have done seven exchanges, and say it is a good way to see their family overseas.

They estimate they have saved $20,000 in accommodation, car hire and food costs.

They get about 10 inquiries a year from people wanting to come to their Nelson home, including from Italy, France, Spain and Britain. Sometimes, those people offer their own homes in return.

Nelson couple Gwen Daly Dover and Mic Dover said they were amazed at the inquiries they received from home swappers from Venice, Switzerland, Vancouver, Sweden, Ibiza and Australia.

While they intended doing a house swap in Britain, because of the seasons they ended up swapping with a family in Balmain, Sydney.

For them, the motivation is not so much the home but also being able to swap cars.

"You save money - loads," Ms Daly Dover said.

Mr Martin said Nelson was a popular destination.

"It's well known. The Abel Tasman National Park is a big attraction, and it's a beautiful location.

"The South Island is always keenly sought after, even Christchurch. After the quakes, we lost at least 40 members, many of them badly affected, but we got them back and more."

It was a system based on trust, he said, so it was expected than a house was well presented, and in return the exchangers left it in a good condition.

He said he had arranged more than 40 exchanges and "we've never once had a letdown".

Only one membership had been terminated.

"We had a member in a posh suburb in Auckland who left his place like a tip, and [the exchangers] arrived late at night."

HomeLink recommends that both parties sign an agreement about what they are doing, so there is no confusion.

Other online exchange sites include Love Home Swap, with more than 50,000 homes worldwide.

It had 850 homes listed in New Zealand and was up 50 per cent year-on-year, said chief marketing officer Ben Wosskow.

Kiwi HouseSwap currently shows four homes being offered in the Nelson region, and Home Exchange lists 346 in New Zealand, with 11 in Nelson.

Another holiday accommodation website is airbnb, which offers rooms to rent in people's homes. It has 62 rentals listed in Nelson and more than 1000 in New Zealand.

MOVIE INSPIRATION

House swapping is an increasing trend, partly inspired by the movie The Holiday, says Nelson Tasman Tourism chief executive Lynda Keene.

The Holiday stars Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet as two lovelorn women who temporarily exchange homes in the United Kingdom and the United States to escape heartbreak during the holiday season.

"From a New Zealand perspective that movie created quite a bit of interest, especially for the younger market," said Mrs Keene.

It was a growing trend and there was potential for the tourism industry to leverage off it, she said. "It is definitely a trend for people to pick holiday homes and we have to be realistic, we can't ignore it, we have to change and adapt."

Increasing visitors were booking online, and research through Nelson's i-Site showed that while spending on activities and retail were up, accommodation bookings were down 60 per cent on four years ago. "People are . . . still coming to us for other options," she said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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