Italy is Britons’ top overseas choice for a new holiday craze – house-swapping.
Just under 3.5% of UK adults – an estimated 1.7 million – plan to take their vacations on the cheap this year – by agreeing to temporarily exchange homes with a family in a spot they would like to visit.
Joint top of the favourite foreign destinations are Italy – whose rich tradition offers countless Italian entertainment opportunities – and Spain, the choice of 15% of house-swapping vacationers. Some 12% plump for France and 10% the United States. Domestically, Cornwall, the Lake District, Devon and Scotland are the spots that head the list.
The number of people taking part in the trend has doubled since 2010. More than half of them cite the economic downturn as the No1 reason that they give a stranger the run of their home – and frequently car as well – for the chance to to spend a free week or two abroad in return.
The practice highlights how the economic downturn has altered Britons’ vacation habits. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that people in the UK made 10 million fewer trips abroad in 2009-10 than in the preceding 12 months – the sharpest drop for more than 30 years.
House-swappers first of all need to register with a website or agency and supply photographs of where they live – and indicate whether their largesse will extend to leaving their home-exchange partner the keys to the family car.
Ed Kushins of HomeExchange.com – which with nearly 40,000 homes is one of the largest such websites – pointed out: ‘”Costly hotels are out. Apartments and houses and are in. They’re more appealing, more comfortable and less costly.”
A note of caution, though. Some 24% of holidaymakers who have tried the practice say they returned to find their homes had suffered some kind of damage in their absence.
Lloyds TSB Insurance, which carried out the survey, said vacationers tempted by the trend should register only with reliable house-swapping websites. And it said its research highlighted the need for householders to ensure their properties had adequate cover beforehand.
Paul Spillane, in charge of the insurers’ home claims department, said: “House-swapping could become one of the trends of 2011 as it is the sort of break that caters for so many different tastes.”