I read an article today which questions the safety of so-called Hospitality Exchange websites (or Travel networking sites as they are also sometimes called).
As a member of one of those communities (BeWelcome) I was surprised to read about the negative image this article tries to paint. Of course safety is an important concern, but I have the feeling this article is written from the viewpoint of the Hotel Industry.
Maybe they have forgotten that more people get robbed in hotels than they do when staying with friends. I have hosted hundreds of people, have stayed with dozens as well, and never did I have any problems. The only time I got robbed was....when staying in a hotel in Bremen.
In BeWelcome.org we are working on a verification tool which will make it possible for members to verify themselves (without costs, unlike Couchsurfing where this will cost you about 25 euro) and still keep a good balance between privacy and safety. If you want to help us implement this, we'd love to hear from you.
Anyway, i've copied the article here below, feel free to make up your own mind.
How Safe Are Travel Networking Sites?
By Laura Bundock
Sky News Reporter
The craze of travel networking sites has hit record levels, but some experts are starting to question how safe they really are.
Backpackers warned to be cautious
Millions of us have signed up to the sites which link up members and allow them to sleep on each other's sofas for free.
But as the trend grows, there is a concern some inexperienced travellers could be at risk.
Charlie McGrath runs Objective Travel, which provides safety courses for would-be globe trotters, "Young backpackers especially who haven't been away much need to be wary and cautious of these sites because you don't really know who you're going to be staying with.
"It's better to stay in somewhere on the commercial market."
Those who do use the sites believe they are the future of travelling. Journalist Vicky Baker is halfway through a three month trip around South America using travel networking.
Tired of following well-trodden tourist trails, she feels they've greatly enhanced her travels, "Before, I was often staying in carbon-copy hostels hanging out with other backpackers, speaking English all the time and never really getting beyond the surface of the country I was in.
"Having local contacts has made it a very different experience."
The websites do have safety systems to protect members. Couchsurfing, one of the biggest sites, lets users leave comments and "vouch" for each other.
It also has a system of personal verification for a small fee.
Other sites like Global Freeloaders and Hospitality Club make members exchange passport numbers.
Trent Collins, from Couchsurfing said its users are advised to use the safety tools, "There have been no major incidents within Couchsurfing and members are encouraged at all times to make sure that they are careful to see that they follow safety protocols to keep it that way."
One signed up, yet unsuccessful member of Couchsurfing is Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent newspaper.
Despite failing to find anyone willing to put him up in Paris, he feels with common sense the sites offer fantastic opportunities.
"I celebrate the opportunities that the internet confers to bring us closer together, and if only someone would agree either to host me or to sleep on my couch then I'd love to try it in person. So far, no luck.
"Of course there are risks - nothing in life is risk free - but I believe the potential for good far outweighs the dangers."