On the back of Airbnb raising yet more billions to fuel its private home accommodation business, Love Home Swap — a marketplace for people to exchange homes for short stays — is on a consolidation tear of its own.
The UK-based company has acquired Holland’s HomeForExchange, which LHS founder and CEO Debbie Wosskow tells TechCrunch will help her company build up its stock in markets where it is less strong, like continental Europe. The combined company now handles a total inventory of 100,000 properties.
Love Home Swap is not disclosing the value of the all-cash deal, but it sounds like there may be more funding in the pipeline for more deals of this kind, and that the plan is for more acquisitions in the next 18 months.
LHS earlier this year took a strategic investment of £7.5 million ($11.4 million) earlier this year from Wyndham Worldwide, the accommodations giant that owns Travelodge and Ramada among other hotels, as well as the world’s biggest timeshare business. The investment resulted in Wyndham becoming a significant minority investor, and it may be that as a strategic partner it will be looking for ways to scale its portfolio business faster than it might otherwise grow on its own.
In a market of outsized on-demand businesses fuelled by private investors, the largest elephant in the room for so-called sharing-economy accommodation plays is Airbnb. The company, now valued at $25 billion, is becoming a very viable alternative for both private and business travellers who might otherwise have stayed in hotels. And now, it is working on ways of expanding into adjacent areas of travel services for both its hosts and guests, and also strategically disclosing more data about the business in hopes of swaying regulators and nay-sayers to be more open to its disruptive business model.
But for all that Airbnb does today and plans to do tomorrow, Wosskow says that Love Home Swap is providing something completely different to its customers.
London-based Wosskow founded Love Home Swap several years ago after returning home from a particularly frustrating vacation with her husband and young child, where they sat in darkened hotel rooms every night eating room service so that their child could sleep. Coming home, she said she realised there wasn’t actually a strong player offering home exchange services in the UK, which spelled opportunity to an entrepreneur (Wosskow has also founded and sold a marketing agency).
LHS gives its home owners the chance to stay in another private home, with users becoming ‘members’ of the service as they would in a timeshare scenario, accruing points for stays elsewhere each time they open up their house to another member. Wosskow says users are motivated to be good actors in the transaction process by “having some skin in the game.”
“We operate in a different market to Airbnb and it would be mad to try to replicate them,” she said. “I like to think of us as online dating for homes.”
And, just like online dating platforms may depend a lot on user interface and algorithms that present matches to you, ultimately they are only as good as the mix of people on there. Wosskow points out that its closest competitor, HomeExchange.com, has only around 65,000 properties at the moment.