Would you bring your entire family to a stranger's house, in a strange country, on a Web site's promise of a cultural exchange? Or invite a backpacker to your home?
Perhaps when you were 22, on your Wanderjahr, the appeal of connecting with strangers in strange lands overrode concerns for your own safety. And, it's true, most people, in most places, are actually nice. But if the thought of connecting with people from other parts of the planet via the Web, either to stay in their house (AirBnB; CouchSurfing) or just to meet them strikes you as foolish, you might be interested in what the cultural exchange Web site Tripping.com is cooking up.
Tripping.com helps travelers set up "play dates" with locals at their destinations, to get a more genuine experience of the culture they're heading into. Likewise, it helps hosts meet people from around the world so they can show off their city or community.
If you're connecting with a stranger, though, you do want to know you're dealing with someone who is who they say they are; and who can be checked up on, read up on, and so on before a connection happens.
The new hospitality network sites (that's what they're called) like AirBnB and CouchSurfing have various methods to check into their customers' identities and weed out the creepiest. All the sites rely on community feedback and a system where respected users vouch for each other. CouchSurfing asks for a small financial donation. Tonight, Tripping.com is launching an experiment where it will actually interview users who want to earn their "validated" badge.
The new video interviews will occur over a Webcam. Applicants will need to hold up a passport or other verifiable ID, which the Tripping.com operator will examine, over the Webcam, to verify that the user is who they say they are, as well as to record information to find this user in the future, if necessary. There will be a $10 fee for this service. Update: Validation will be free during its trial launch, which will likely be through the end of the year.
Leveraging the trend
Tripping.com is a smart take on the business of circumventing usual travel sites. While it doesn't collect direct revenue as a peer-to-peer lodging site AirBnB does, it's also unlikely to get taxed or regulated out of business. Under the hood, it's more like a dating site, except it can benefit from the large travel advertising business and from affiliate click-through programs.
There's also a good business-to-business angle on this person-to-person service: Tripping.com can run branded exchange networks, in particular for colleges and universities, to help people within already-trusted networks connect with each other. Tripping.com may charge a fee to institutions for this service.