“真正的发现之旅不在于寻找新的风景，而在于寻找新的眼睛”。这段马塞尔·普鲁斯特，伴随着一个概念旅游，今天卷土重来。的确，我们生活在一个世界旅行：从上世纪50年代初的几万元，2010游客的数量几乎是10亿，在所有这些旅客，他们中的许多人都向往一个更真实的旅行方式，共享，你可能会遇到在你的旅行是必不可少的学习的人。这些新的愿望已经成为一个真正的现象，部分原因是因为许多报纸、杂志和网站都在促进他们的发展。我们的研究项目将集中在三个网站，促进旅游这真实的方式，这一新现象的最有代表性的：沙发，有机农场的全球机遇（w.w.o.o.f.）帮助交易（事务）。旅游论文代写 What Is Mass Tourism
这三个网站的工作或多或少以同样的方式。他们是旅行者和当地人之间的自由界面。在沙发客的情况下，当地人可以提出任何一个沙发上过夜或去旅行者喝酒，使他们能够与国外人交流；同时，游客可以找到一个地方居住自由和满足他们参观的国家的人了解他们的文化。随着农民事务和W.W.O.O.F.，让游客从世界各地来到他们的农场，为了帮助和了解有机农业和农村看到的生活是什么样的。钱是不会参与这种交流，这是为什么它是如此受欢迎的人睡在你的沙发上什么都不欠你的，那些在农场工作的薪水很好的饭菜，欢迎住宿及以上的所有丰富的人类经验但没有钱（但你可能付少量的钱来获得在Wwoof和HelpX的情况下，服务）。在这些网站上你还可以找到其他的信息，如推荐的成员：他们是友好的，有人来代替他们满意他们的方式欢迎等等。它作为一个旅游者和主人的社区。旅游论文代写 What Is Mass Tourism
首先，我们来回答这个问题的社会学方法：我们派了一个调查[ 2 ]为人收集他们的推荐和对比的观点；我们还利用网站数据库（报告、统计、通讯组，提示和FAQ）了解更多关于这些在线资源。人们为什么要使用这些网站，他们想做什么，他们为什么如此受欢迎，是第一个问题，我们问自己，了解新的旅游现象；我们还看了旅行的最近的历史，尤其是在大众旅游现象的理解替代实践旅游及其民主化的感谢互联网的出现。其次，我们试图通过一个更广泛的历史和更重要的方法来表明，“真实的旅行”的现象可能不是革命它声称是。旅游论文代写 What Is Mass Tourism
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”. This quotation from Marcel Proust goes along with a conception of travelling that is making a big comeback today. Indeed, we are living in a world of travel: from a few million in the early 1950s, the number of travellers in 2010 was almost 1 billion, and among all these travellers, many of them are yearning for a more authentic way of travelling where sharing and learning from the people you may come across throughout your trip is essential. These new aspirations have become a real phenomenon partly because many newspapers, magazines and websites have been promoting them. Our research project will focus on three websites which promote this authentic way of travelling and which are the most representative of this new phenomenon: Couchsurfing, the Worldwide opportunities on organic farms (W.W.O.O.F.) and Help Exchange (HelpX).
These three websites work more or less in the same way. They are a free interface between travellers and locals. In the case of Couchsurfing, locals can propose either a couch to spend the night or go for a drink with travellers so that they can exchange with someone from abroad; at the same time travellers can find a place to dwell for free and meet people from the country they are visiting and learn a bit about their culture. With HelpX and W.W.O.O.F., farmers let travellers from all around the world come to their farm in order to help and learn about organic farming and see what life in the countryside is like. Money is never involved in this kind of exchange and this is partly why it is so popular: people who sleep on your couch don’t owe you anything and those who come working in the farms are paid with good meals, a welcoming accommodation and above all an enriching human experience but no money at all (yet you may have to pay a small amount of money to have access to the service in the case of Wwoof and HelpX). On these websites you can also find other information such as testimonials about members: are they friendly, are people who came to their place satisfied with the way they were welcomed and so on. It works as a community of travellers and hosts.
Indeed the internet reduces spaces and it makes people and ideas get closer and closer all over the world. Couch Surfing, WwooF and Help X demonstrate that tourism is changing in our global world. But to what extent is it a new way of travelling?
Firstly, we adopted a sociological approach to answer to this question: we sent a census  to Couchsurfers to collect their testimonials and contrasted points of view; we also used the websites’ data bases (reports, statistics, newsletter, groups, Tips and FAQ’s) to learn more about these online resources. Why do people decide to use these websites, what do they expect from, why are they so popular were the first questions we asked ourselves to understand the new travelling phenomenon; we also looked at the recent history of travelling and especially at the phenomenon of mass tourism to understand the emergence of alternative practices of tourism and their democratization thanks to the internet. We secondly tried to adopt a wider historical and more critical approach to show that the phenomenon of “authentic travel” may not be the revolution it claims to be.
Chapter I: New travellers, new ways of travelling
I. The search for authenticity versus mass tourism
A. What is mass tourism?
Tourism (that is to say “the act of travelling or sightseeing, particularly away from one’s home; collectively, the tourists visiting a place or landmark”  ) is starting to be a mass phenomenon in the second half of the twentieth century as the progress in the technology of transports allowed large numbers of people to travel from one place of the globe to another one in a short period of time. (Cf. the Oasis of the sea  one of the biggest ships in the world can welcome 8800 passengers or the Airbus A380 which is able to welcome up to 853 passengers). This democratization has grown along with the industry of tourism and tourism has very quickly become a business on the rise (as we can see on the following graphs). Thus, for 50 years or so tourism has been synonymous with mass tourism.
Since the 1950s, the main conception of travelling has therefore been linked to a commercial logic. In other words, the definition of travelling has become: going abroad thanks to a tour operator (mainly in seaside resorts and to a lesser extent to ski resorts) in order to relax, have a good time, and learn a bit about foreign cultures. We can see a good illustration of this in the French film Les Bronzés in which a group of French people spend their holiday in Africa, in a camp very similar to the Club Med. In this movie we can see that tourists are looked after by a tour operator that organizes their holiday from beginning to end. They only mix with locals within a strictly economic (and therefore biased) relationship (buying souvenirs for example).
Otherwise, most of the time, they stay among themselves. It’s the same with mass tourism: people go to visit places such as the Pyramids in Egypt or the Taj Mahal in India (to name but two), but they do so on a tour and not on their own; to caricature a little bit: once the visit is finished they rush back to their hotel to see the show set up to entertain them during their diner at the hotel restaurant. This impersonal tourism has two aims: entertainment for tourists (but no concerns about authenticity, the culture is merely presented in a folk and commercial way) but also economic development or profits for tour operators and touristic areas. Indeed, Daniel J. Stynes  explains that:
“Tourism has a variety of economic impacts. Tourists contribute to sales, profits, jobs, tax revenues, and income in an area. The most direct effects occur within the primary tourism sectors –lodging, restaurants, transportation, amusements, and retail trade. Through secondary effects, tourism affects most sectors of the economy. A standard economic impact analysis traces flows of money from tourism spending, first to businesses and government agencies where tourists spend their money and then to : other businesses — supplying goods and services to tourist businesses, households – earning income by working in tourism or supporting industries, and government — through various taxes and charges on tourists, businesses and households.”
It has been the case for famous places such as Cancùn, Mexico, Acapulco, Djerba, Agadir, Ibiza (to name but a few) which have based their economic development on the tourism industry. Mass tourism is a very important part of their economy and the reason for their wealth (as we can see in the following graphs). Tourists are therefore taken into an economic relation where any authenticity is biased by money. Today, some people reject this way of travelling.
B. A search for authenticity
Indeed, as stated by Charles Taylor, aÂ CanadianÂ philosopher and professor at Mc Gill University in Montreal, we live today in a “culture of authenticity”  . The main idea is that through dialogue we are able to exchange our ideas with others and construct our values and beliefs from bits and pieces we hear and see. This is how we become authentic humans. Authenticity is about being true with yourself. This culture of authenticity can be perceived as an ideological movement which produces effects on tourism. Nowadays, in reaction against the tourism industry and mass tourism, some travellers expect “authenticity” from their travel experiences. This search for authenticity goes against the alleged non-authenticity of the mainstream mass tourism based on profits  . The perception that lies behind this is that money dehumanizes human relations and produces distance between people. Therefore, this modern demand for authenticity makes a no-profit exchange a more attractive alternative. It is a way to resist against the tourism industry in which travel is exchanged like a product, not a human experience but entertainment, a vacation, ready to be consumed2, thanks to a wide catalogue full of tours, cruises, and tourist attractions that can be enjoyed for money.
If the tourism industry’s main goal is to make profits, some travellers seek another way of travelling focused on sharing and personal fulfillment. According to this point of view, travelling is not vacation, because vacation is “something empty” (vacant means Â«Â unfilledÂ Â»)Â while travelling is a way to reach personal fulfillment. Among people we questioned  , the most expected benefit from travelling was to know more about different ways of thinking and cultures. As Anita B., a Couchsurfing user (a 35 year-old woman from Bentonville, Arkansas, USA) says “I expect to meet new people from all walks of life and to learn new things from each other-anything from cultural and religious diversity, to eating new foods!”
“I expect to enjoy travelling better simply be enjoying more of a local scene while travelling. I don’t like going to the touristy areas of places I visit, I much rather prefer to see what it is actually like, as if I was living there”Â says Alex H. (26 years-old, from Monterey, California, USA). He is currently travelling in a different way, to experience travelling like something more authentic or true Â«Â as if he was living thereÂ Â».
This search for authenticity was also promoted by the public awareness of environmental issues that appeared at the beginning of the 70’s and which have increased so far. Tourism was influenced by this movement because like all others human activities, tourism has complex links with the environment, especially regarding mass tourism. Indeed, many activities can produce adverse environmental effects  (depletion of natural resources, deforestation, air pollution and noise…). As we can learn from the WWF website, which deals with Ecotourism and its negative outlooks through the example of Malaysia: “Many of these impacts are linked with the construction of general infrastructures such as roads, airports and tourism facilities, including resorts, hotels, restaurants, shops, golf courses and marinas. The negative impacts of mass tourism development can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which it actually depends”  , but also make local people dependent on tourism. Mass tourism is based on profits and exchanges are restricted to quantitative monetary exchange regardless of social and environmental consequences. Moreover, we can learn from several websites devoted to ecotourism that “an overwhelming majority of profits are put in the pockets of investors, instead of reinvestment into the local economy or environmental protection”  ; tourism industry provides few benefits for local communities. Because social and natural environment can be degraded by tourism leisure activities, some travellers seek a new way of travelling that can be seen as a will to “go back to the land”. Travelling can be an opportunity to reconsider nature and organic lifestyle. It is close of the idea of a modern “questÂ for authenticity”Â in which organic lifestyles are considered as healthier, more authentic, and sustainable for the world and especially local communities visited. This movement is part of a new kind of tourism called ecotourism, which can be defined as a “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”  . It purports to educate the traveler focused onÂ volunteering, or Â«Â volunteerismÂ Â», personal growth and environmental responsibility.
To sum up, volunteering, personal growth, and environmental protection can bring together travellers and local communities.
From The International Ecotourism Society 
II. Couchsurfing, Wwoof and HelpX : an answer to this new demand
A. The websites: mirrors of a new philosophy
Humanism and environmentalism
Couchsurfing, HelpX and Wwoof give an answer to these new aspirations. Indeed, they are more than a mere tool to help people setting up their holiday; they try to promote their own vision of the world and their own philosophy in line with the “new” quest for authenticity. Couchsurfing for instance has a “vision”  of what the future should be: people would be more connected and would share experiences no matter what their culture, their ethnic group or the country they belong to would be. This vision is linked to the philosophy of the Couchsurfing organization (pacifism and humanism), according to which, to achieve this goal, the best way is to bring people together through travelling so that they get rid of their stereotypes about the others, learn to deal with the difference and act to build a better world  based on mutual comprehension. Therefore, with Couchsurfing, travels are no longer based on economic principles but rather on an authentic relation with others in order to promote:
“A world where there are no sides and all kinds of philosophies and ideologies can coexist. In this kind of world, diversity is honored rather than suppressed or rejected.” 
And this new type of travel, among which Couchsurfing, matches well the new aspirations for authenticity. It’s pretty much the same for the World Wide Opportunities on organic farms (Wwoof) and Help Exchange (HelpX). These websites suggest another philosophy, closer to environmentalism that responds to travellers’ concerns about environment. Indeed, they want to promote organic farms and organic production by setting up what we can call “organic tourism”. With this kind of tourism, people go helping organic farmers for free; in exchange farmers give them a place to dwell, food and introduce them to organic farming. Once again, this kind of tourism is based on sharing and learning from others and provides a new and more authentic ways of travelling.
A global community
By connecting people directly (and not by means of a tour operator), and by putting the emphasis on authentic relations between travellers and locals (not based on money), the three websites help creating communities. Indeed, several people use these websites, not only for travelling or hosting travellers, but also to meet new people. In the city where they live, some of them organize meetings and Couchsurfing-events once a month and sometimes every week. But travellers can also meet people where they have recently moved thanks to these networks. For instance, Couchsurfing can be convenient “to meet open-minded people when you move for a while to a new place for work” said Tania, a 24 year-old woman from Poland. Moreover, users can make friends with fellow travellers. On the Couchsurfing website there is a frame where users can see nearby travellers who are currently online in the same area. “I met Mirko when I was in San Francisco. I sent him a message and met him for a beer. We talked a lot and I quicky got on well with him. We decided to go to the Burning Man festival together. Finally we spent two weeks travelling” said Clément B, a 22 year-old student from France. HelpX and Wwoof also provide this kind of service. Groups and web pages can be used to meet people during the stay or the journey; they can help for the arrival on the spot, they can suggest things to do in the area. It’s a convenient resource widely used by travellers as well as hosts. These websites which connect people all over the world around a particular idea of sharing and travelling create a feeling of community, and especially Couchsurfing. A lot of users keep in touch with hosts and become friends. According to Couchsurfing statistics, 2,746,837 friendships have been created  thanks to this online network.
Where in the world are these CouchSurfers? 
“I feel like Couchsurfing does have a spirit, some people I mention it to just don’t understand what it is all about. They find it weird to stay with strangers, but I feel like if I meet someone on CS then I probably have a lot in common to begin with…” says Alex M.
Seth says that these websites like Couchsurfing create a “community spirit which allows people to bypass normal channels of interacting and being hospitable to people”. To sum up, with over 2.2 million members, it appears like a sizeable community.
“We have met helpers from many corners of the world & established some great friendships. When I look around the farm & the improvements we complete I am able to relate many tasks to the helpers that assisted & provided many laughs along the way”. Jan, a HelpX userÂ (from Auckland, New Zealand)
Nevertheless, the notion of community is complex and contested. Most scholars define community as Â«Â a group of people living in close proximity with mutual relations characterized by caring and sharingÂ Â»  . What is interesting with these social networks is that Internet modifies time and space perceptions. The community becomes shifting and more complex. It is really aÂ “communityÂ “that is created by these exchanges (helpers, hosts, couchsurfers) because they live for a while in close proximity (at the farm, in the same house or flat). The idea of caring and sharing is essential as we said. But this community is moving, shifting, and keeps evolving with the will to meet and understand people, to promote a sustainable world, and to achieve personal fulfillment in travelling or hosting. A French sociologist, Michel Mafessoli puts forward the idea of “neo-tribalism”  . He predicted thatÂ “as the culture and institutions ofÂ modernismÂ decline, societies would embraceÂ nostalgiaÂ and look to the organizational principles of the distant past for guidance, and that therefore theÂ post-modernÂ era would be the era ofÂ tribes”  . Following that theory these tribes, opposed toÂ mass tourism and mass society, would thus naturally formÂ social and online networks such as Wwoof, HelpX and Couchsurfing.
“I think in some respects, Couchsurfing is a community. It’s a community of people who believe that there’s a better way to travel than to stay at the popular ‘tourist’ spots. With all of the people I met, all of them seemed to have this CS spirit. It seems to be the sense of openness and the knowledge that you belong to the human race, not just whatever race or nationality you happen to be”, declared Anita B.
B. “Intimate tourism”
Paula Bialski is a Polish-Canadian sociologist at Lancaster University (United Kingdom) whose work is about online hospitality exchange systems as a new form of tourism (especially regarding Couchsurfing). She underlines a phenomenon of “intimate tourism”  . According to her, the research of authenticity through these abstract systems (such as Couchsurfing) “bring a rise of personal trust relationships”  , and these relationships require to Â«Â open oneself upÂ Â» to the other, to hide nothing from the other. What is experienced here is not only the individual desire to discover the private space of the locals, the Â«Â homeÂ Â» (or farm for HelpX or Wwoof), but a need to experience another human. The Couchsurfing mechanism provides users with the immediate emotional exchange that users are yearning for. Moreover, those couchsurfers who Â«Â surfÂ Â» don’t go into the experience blindly. It goes without saying that users often choose this means of travel because they want to meet an Â«Â interestingÂ Â» person. We can say that hospitality exchange communities exist with a level of emotional exchange, and it highlights the Michel Maffesoli’s idea of Â«Â neo-tribalismÂ Â». Maffesoli rejects the idea of an individualized society, and argues that the modern global world is segregated into Â«Â neo-tribesÂ Â» in which individuals become members in order to exchange the same emotions. “When Couch surfers travel and exchange thoughts and feelings, they seldom come into conflict” argues P.Bialski. Emotional exchange is an exchange of empathy, understanding, and agreement. Instead of a rational point of view, in which we see the world as a rational individual, we are witnessing an empathetic Â«Â socialityÂ Â» expressed by a succession of ambiances, feelings, and emotions. The idea of meeting another human outside of one’s own cultural context, and forming some kind of bond with them, becomes an exotic and foreign experience when compared with the backdrop of the individual’s home setting. If one of the consequence of modernity is that it Â«Â dis-placesÂ Â» us, and place becomes ambivalent the modern “self” longs for union with another. Couchsurfing and other hospitality exchanges systems fulfill these needs.Â “Couchsurfing embodies the global nature of our time – and creates the Emotional Tourism mechanism”  argues Paula Bialski.
To conclude, it can be argued that these online networks like Wwoof, HelpX and Couchsurfing offer new travel practices, considered as moreÂ authentic intimate and emotional. There are forms of resistance against mass tourism in our modern global world and are likely to increase shapely. However, now, we are going to show how Couchsurfing, which is without any doubt an original way of travelling, turns out to be perfectly in line with former traditions, along with Wwoof and HelpX. Then, we will wonder about the illusions created by these new internet-based-services.
Chapter II: Illusions of a “new phenomenon”
I. Old concept, new success
A. Back to the roots
First, it is necessary to underline that the pursuit of hospitality, authenticity and proximity with local people has long been a criterion for travellers. And yet, many ways of travelling satisfy people’s concern to get close to the local people, cultures and ways of life. Thus, we learn from an article published by The Sunday Times that: “Hospitality networks – communities set up to enable travellers to share the home of a foreign host – are nothing new”  . First of all, as we have briefly mentioned previously, this way of viewing travelling is in line with a secular vision. In practical terms, the very newness of the Couchsurfing system can be put in perspective through historical examples.
First, at the end of the Second World War, a large movement of reconciliation between the peoples all over the world was initiated, to prevent the atrocities committed during the conflict from recurring. Pacifists from all backgrounds met up to express a common vision of peace between nations, through structures such as the Folk High Schools  or the Quakers  , which had been in existence since the nineteenth century and matched these new ambitions.
Then in 1949 was founded SERVAS, which is the oldest hospitality exchange organization still in activity. Like Couchsurfing, it is an organization of hosts and travellers, based on understanding, tolerance and world peace. As Paula Bialski shows, “Servas Open Doors, was established as a cross national, non-profit, volunteer run organization advocating interracial and international peace”  . The word “servas” comes actually from the Esperanto, the universal language, and means “to serve” (implied: the peace). The initial functioning was essentially based on a simple address book of friends from different countries, who agreed to host each other and who shared a common vision of travelling.
From the Servas website, where we can learn how did the project get started, we can see its quick and wide success “Within a few years, the movement had taken root in a large number of countries”  , and the idea spread outside of Europe and North America: in India, for example, Gandhi’s disciples and non-violence partisans joined the movement, following Gandhi’s idea that “With every true friendship, we build more firmly the foundations on which the peace of the whole world rests”  .
Culture and humanism
Then, at the end of the 50’s, the great aspiration for peace was revised downwards: from then on, the aim was simply to receive and being received, to share the life of the hosts, for a better understanding of countries and cultures. Participants have the opportunity to meet new peoples and cultures, and to get a better understanding of the lives and concerns of other people.
Later, this original conception of travelling spread out, through a large variety of organizations and programs, all lead by a similar objective: philanthropist exchanges between peoples and cultures. One of the notable examples is the organization People to People International (PTPI) which was established on September 1956, in the United States, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who claimed:
“I have long believed, as have many before me, that peaceful relations between nations requires understanding and mutual respect between individuals.”  .
It was then privatized as a nongovernmental organization, and became a non-profit corporation. The purpose of People to People International is “to enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures”. As can be seen on the website of the organization, its project is “part of a global network designed to increase understanding of other cultures and promote friendships across all man-made barriers which separate us”  .
A large network of people-exchange organizations and programs was thus born in the course of time, with a shared philosophy and related objectives.
Along those lines, we must add that Wwoof and HelpX are also in line with these humanist projects: it is another kind of exchange between a host and a helper, aimed at discovering a certain way of life and a certain culture, furthering the environmental concerns that we have previously exposed. Indeed, though the nature of the exchange is different (farmers who need help with Agricultural, Horticultural or Stock management work, andÂ hosts who “repay” the volunteer with free accommodation and meals), the principles remain the same: the websites are also internet-friendly-based, and the aim is still a hospitality exchange, underlined by the desire of sharing and discovering: they are also part of this global philanthropist exchange network. Among the organizations pursuing these goals, we can name for example “Help and Host”  , “GlobalFreeloaders”  “BeWelcome”  , “Hospitality Club”  and, of course, “Couchsurfing”.
Besides, this fundamental objective of cultural understanding is also promoted through other kinds of exchange programs, focused on education. The most notable example is the ERASMUS program, which “enables higher education students, teachers and institutions in 31 European countries to study as part of their degree in another country”  . One of its aimsÂ is to develop students’ linguistic knowledge, but more widely it provides opportunities for cultural understanding and self-development, for example under the principle ofÂ Students Helping Students thanks to the Erasmus Student Network (ESN)  , which is a non-profit international student organization. For that matter, to underline the importance of education in that global network, we can add that several of the organizations previously named, notably PTPI, offer student exchange programs  . Educative purposes therefore have a paramount importance in the underlying principles of exchange programs, as long as the global objectives of understanding between individuals and peoples and the discovery of universal values and aspirations.
In conclusion Couchsurfing is part of a worldwide project, materialized in a vast network of hospitality and designed for young people mainly, as we will see later. So, in the light of these conclusions, we can legitimately wonder why Couchsurfing encounters such a peculiar success.
B. An internet-based success
Indeed, on the Wikitravel website  , can be found statistics showing that among the vast homestay network, people vote overwhelmingly in favour of Couchsurfing:
One of the reasons for this success is given by Paula Bialski, in her work “Intimate Tourism”. First of all, she explains generally that “While Servas had only a few hundred members worldwide, the Internet in the 1990s paved way for a number of other hospitality exchange services”  . Therefore, “Processes of globalization such as the Internet allow us to freely choose between growing varieties of travel methods”  , including Couchsurfing, which offers a more practical and simple interface that can be an explanatory factor of its popular success. Thus, “Couchsurfing.com [â€¦] simply create[s] a very accessible network in which the actor can access other network members in order to engage in this type of exchange over and over again, among hundreds of thousands of people”  .
The website is eye-catching and made particularly attractive thanks to a very simple functioning and a slick interface that are nowhere else to be seen on websites for such services.
Moreover, it must be underlined that the success of a social application depends essentially on the increasing number of its users. In that sense the expression “to surf a couch” that has become very popular among people is like a pathway leading straight to the website. Finally, the birth of a large community spirit between couchsurfers from all over the world makes it attractive for people who want to experience such a way of travelling, and turn therefore spontaneously to the Couchsurfing website.
To conclude, this culture of mobility and hospitality between people is not a new phenomenon: it was born during the Second World War and has spread out all around the world, through the numerous people exchange programs, driven by old aspirations for preservation of environment, peace among human beings, shared hospitality, and education. And among all these organizations Couchsurfing.org tends undeniably to make itself known as a leader: a large majority of this modern kind of travellers vote overwhelmingly in favour of this website.
However, if the hospitality networks seem to be the perfect supply responding to a vast popular demand (for example, the Couchsurfing network is adding about 2167 new members daily  ), we are now going to see that, firstly, the popular Couchsurfing service is plagued by problems that most people are not aware of and secondly that this demand is for many reasons limited to some countries and some populations, contradicting the universalists’ claims. Finally, what seems to be at the core of these preoccupations is the Internet itself, as a “computer-mediated-communication”  .
II. The worldwide community: wishful thinking
To sum up our point, the problems we are now going to expose here are: defrauding users, illegal behavior, threats, and finally a lack of any real appeals or dispute resolution process. These difficulties and dangers are on the one hand linked with the Internet itself, but on the other hand they are inherent in Couchsurfing itself.
Let’s begin with some quotes from the Couchsurfing Terms of Service  :
“Because user verification on the Internet is difficult, we cannot and do not confirm each user’s purported identity” and “a user must provide contact information (like name and address) and financial information (like credit card number, expiration date). This information is used for verification purposes”  .
Thus, Couchsurfing does have safety measures, but still declines all responsibility for the actions of its members. So, even though the website theoretically provides a verification system, we understand easily the inherent risk: there is no reliable way to make sure the surfers or the hosts are who they claim to be, and to know what is actually going to happen when they physically meet.
Indeed, in concrete terms, the social control of users is made by the community itself, it is just a self-moderation: after each journey, a very plain mark is given to both the host and the surfer, and it must remain irreproachable if the individual wants to keep his reputation safe. But obviously, people who had been actually excluded because of misbehaviour can easily come back, since there is no way to control profile creations: an email address, a location, and a credit card number are the only information required to sign in.
Moreover, in addition to these human safety arbiters, the site implements security protocols through voluntary (that is to say not systematic) verification, thanks to a 25$ payment which confirms identity through a credit card and a code sent to the mailing address. People who have actually made the donation besides “demonstrate that they care about the community”, and become “verified members”  . And yet, as demonstrated in an article called “the criticism of Couchsurfing and a review of alternatives”: “There is absolutely nothing stopping me from staying at someone’s house and using a stolen credit card sent to my hosts address. Unless that $25 charge is reported as fraudulent I will have been considered verified. Otherwise I could legally use a prepaid credit card at an address I was staying at and be considered verified?”  .
Thus, several risks follow obviously from that functioning, making people wonder whether these networks are safe, because it turns out that some people want to use them for nefarious purposes, and because “The debate about Couchsurfing’s failure to enact policies and procedures that increase safety is a hot and explosive topic among the site’s community on- and offline”  . For example, taken from DailyMail we can quote: “A volunteer host who believed he was ‘irresistible’ to women, lured a holidaymaker to his flat after meeting her on website Couchsurfing.com before brutally raping her”  .
The fact is that people put themselves in a very vulnerable position when surfing on other people’s couches and for the system to function, it must be based on truth between people, because we agree to let strangers enter our own home and entreat them to accept our hospitality.
Obviously, these are dangers inherent to all similar networks, and to the Internet itself, but the real difficulties lie in the way Couchsurfing resolves the actual conflicts: “The difference here though is how the other sites would react to the problem and how Couchsurfing reacted to the problem”  .
The article we quote again here points out the limits of the system, and deals notably with a recent incident where a 29-year-old woman from Hong Kong, Melissa Ulto, was raped by a 34-year-old man in his flat  , underlining that “the victim reported the offender to Couchsurfing in March, who chose not to react and left the profile enabled for many months until August”  . After the event indeed, the raped woman contacted Couchsurfing to report the misconduct, and left a negative comment on his profile, to warn other users. But the website remained silent. She contacted them again and on the third try, she threatened to sue them, and managed to finally catch their attention.
This particular event underlines a dangerous lack in the protection of surfers, and the difficulty to set up a proper dispute resolution process. The most striking evidence of this lack can be found on the “womensrights.change” website, in an explicit article called “Couchsurfing Ignores Harassment and Assault”, where we can find the answer (as it is related by the article) made by Safety Team Coordinator Rachel diCerbo to Ulto: “Because we are not there to witness events, we rely on members to talk about their experience with one another through references … we certainly empathize and will help people use the system in order to allow others to make informed decisions, but we simply must maintain as much neutrality as possible.”  . Thus, “without irrefutable evidence beyond he-said-she-said, Couchsurfing will not intervene or eject someone from their site to protect other users”.
And yet, a large debate has been sparked off from this lack of security, to such an extent that for example, on December 2008 the chief of police of Lincoln, Nebraska asked for a law enforcement of Couchsurfing.org, after he found similarities between surfer profiles and people he had previously arrested  .
To conclude, the main problem, beyond the inherent risks linked to an internet-based exchange network, is that Couchsurfing should actually have a responsibility to provide a systematic and free verification service, in order to protect the users from offenders.
After this short review of the inherent problems related to Couchsurfing.org functioning, it may now be interesting to examine the other major findings that can appear once you focus on the global utilization of these networks.
B. A limited community
First of all, from the statistics that can be found on different websites, we can make several deductions. Firstly, as Paula Bialski underlines it, “the average user is a young white male who speaks English and lives in a developed nation”  , and that can be verified on the Couchsurfing website itself  :
Indeed, we can see thanks to these two tables that western countries represent almost 80% of the couchsurfers all over the world. Besides, regarding people’s average age, statistics also confirm Bialski’s observations. Furthermore, in his thesis “Hospitality in globalised social contexts – the case of Couchsurfing”, Lukas Ley underlines that “The Couchsurfing community is composed mainly of students, more precisely undergraduates, postgraduates and Doctorants”  .
What can be concluded from these facts is that, despite a claim to answer a universal demand, these organizations are finally not fully global, and designed for a certain category of population.
Besides, this obvious fact can be reinforced by considering the recommendations made by the majority of observers, who underline the fact that people must not travel without money, and must be able to get at least a cab or a hotel room if something wrong happens.
For that reason, regarding economic considerations, Couchsurfing must be seen more as a solution to travel while saving money (thanks to the free accommodation) than just a cheap way of travelling, and it is thus dedicated to people who are clearly comfortably off. Indeed, Couchsurfing “Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at A Time”, but this is a better world dedicated to privileged people, who have a house, a couch, a computer, an internet access, and who can afford both a trip and a hosting. As Bialski adds, “If we think of the very phrase â€• couch, a concoction of the rich, northern societies, we realize that this phenomenon can be quite limiting and exclusionary”  .
So, what are the underlying reasons that justify these phenomena? Firstly, as Bialski underlines it, travelling through these organizations is “just a subculture of the general internet culture”  .
Indeed, these practices are in line with the modern Internet global culture, people are clearly not on an equal footing, and the Couchsurfing statistics are in agreement with this reality. Thus, Internet gives birth to virtual/web communities and the power of the network creates a systemization of hospitality, but only through them. Therefore, logically, these communities are not accessible to anyone and exclude those who cannot access, either for economic reasons or for cultural ones.
The other conclusion that can be drawn is that, since “the fundamental prerequisite for using these services [are] computers and the Internet”  , the global footprint and the Universalist claims are intrinsically impossible to apply. So, in reality, rather than a worldwide community, these organizations create mostly unilateral exchanges, between people of similar conditions.
For all these reasons, we can conclude that the theoretical aims of Couchsurfing.org are for one part satisfied, since it is now the most acclaimed hospitality network among a vast and old community. However, the concrete conditions of using still contradict the common idea of a worldwide community made from free, cosmopolitan and philanthropist backpackers. Thus, for Couchsurfing the “computer-mediated-communication” is simultaneously its only means of existence and the limit to its global expansion
To conclude, we have seen that Couchsurfing is presented as a new phenomenon by several media. As found on The Guardian: “In fact, couch surfing could well be the future of backpacking” and on Timesonline: “with several thousand recruits joining the project’s 200,000 registered users each week, Couchsurfing.com is now an undisputed phenomenon”. Along our study, we have figured out that Couchsurfing, Wwoof and HelpX are in line with new aspirations and a new way for people to see their travel. It is besides linked to a crisis of mass-tourism, and a desire for authenticity and closeness with local cultures. The philosophy lauded by those websites was such a success that vast communities were created, all over the word, around common values such as peace, philanthropy, and education. In addition, Couchsurfing takes these ancient notions of hospitality and tucks them into a thoroughly modern paradigm: the social networking Web site. Its practical interface, the attractive concepts it promotes, along with its community spirit are explanatory factors of its undeniable success. However, we have wondered to what extent this success is global, and found that it is actually limited, not only because of its inherent dangers but also because it concerns only certain categories of population.
Finally, in addition to these conclusions, we can also wonder to what extent are those websites in line with a new demand for pleasure and discoveries at least cost. Indeed, people in numerous countries organize more and more free experiences, such as gastronomic exchanges or house switches, and the new hospitality websites, which offer above all a free service, seem to surf this new wave.