Sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing have transformed the budget travel landscape, making it possible to stay in fun places and meet new people without spending a fortune. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could use your skills – like designing a web page or helping out with the gardening – to earn your keep instead? That’s the idea behind a new start-up called Amons, which wants to shake up the traditional backpacking scene.
We caught up with Amons founder and CEO Marko Islamovic to find out what the site could mean for people travelling around Sweden on a budget.
In a nutshell, what is Amons? Where did the idea come from?
Amons is place where hosts and travellers around the world can connect in order to exchange services. By using the platform, skilled travellers can provide specific services to local hosts and then get a free place to stay. Travellers are motivated to help because they get the opportunity to go sightseeing in the location, or experience activities in that particular area.
But why the name Amons?
When I was travelling, one guy from the US was using the word ‘amon’ all the time. I asked what the hell it means. So he told me it means that something is awesome, but not in typical way – think of it as ‘unique awesomeness’. We added ‘s’ at the end of the word to represent the awesomeness of all our members.
Okay, so travellers get somewhere to stay for free. What’s in it for the hosts?
You know, the problem with similar networks is that there are no obvious benefits for the hosts. Simply ‘meeting with locals’ isn’t really valuable. Amons provides objective value to the hosts. They will get their work done by travellers. That could be anything, from programming to housekeeping, cooking or graphic design.
We all notice how personal tasks that we need to complete, sometimes, are just too much for us. By providing a place to stay for a skilled traveller, hosts can get their work done completely free. Moreover, they get the opportunity to learn from people from other backgrounds in their own home.
What are some of the challenges when it comes to setting up in a country like Sweden?
The main challenge is definitely related to getting hosts and travellers from Sweden familiar with the platform, and establishing trust with us and with travellers. We want to prove how this type of exchange can be extremely helpful both for hosts and travellers in Sweden – mainly because they will save a lot of resources while getting the travel experience, or getting the job done.
How do you see Amons improving things for backpackers and independent travellers visiting Sweden?
First of all, we love the values that independent travellers have! We really emphasise the uniqueness of our travellers as we know that they prefer an independent lifestyle and have unique skills to provide.
That’s why, for example, Amons provides personal travel support for every single member of our community, which means that travellers have access to us 24/7 with questions or issues during the exchange with the host.
We want people to travel, experience and learn more. So instead of, for example, travelling only to Stockholm, they can connect with hosts from Malmö or another city and make a trip there too. Backpackers can even become our affiliates, allowing them to earn money for the transportation ticket.
There have been a few horror stories in the media recently, including the Couchsurfing host who was imprisoned for raping a 16-year-old girl, and the Airbnb property in Canada that got completely trashed. What protection do you offer hosts and visitors who might be thinking about signing up?
We’re confident that we have the most secure platform for both travellers and hosts. However, we encourage all travellers to buy travel insurance from our partners in case of any accidents. We are working to provide travel insurance automatically to all our travellers. This will be a huge help.
Another layer of security that we developed on Amons are ‘verified hosts’ – this means that the hosts can get verified by our staff, which will in turn allow them to gain trust from travellers who would like to help them.
If no cash changes hands between travellers and hosts, how do you make money?
There are few subscription plans available to travellers, which will allow them to have a full access to the platform. If they travel occasionally, they can choose to pay monthly; if they travel more frequently they can purchase a one-year plan. If they are considering making a worldwide tour, they can even purchase a two-year plan.
This might be the first time some of our readers have heard about Amons. What’s your strategy for expanding it?
I see the host-and-traveller exchange as the first step in rebuilding and experiencing the world. Really, when you think about it, there are no limits on how much can be done and experienced with the site. Whether you are a host or a traveller, Amons allows easy access to the service that you need, while also meeting interesting folks from around the world.
Sweden is a super-connected society. How do you see this changing the travel landscape over the next few years?
Sweden is definitely one of the most technological societies out there and people are usually very open to using and supporting technology – they see great benefit in it.
When it comes to travelling, I see the ‘packed version’ of travelling dying slowly over the coming years. This means that people will be less and less interested in booking an arranged version of travelling. From the psychological side this is understandable, especially for younger folks. Going on a vacation where everything is predictable and boring will become less popular because folks want to experience ‘real’ adventures. They want to meet local people, socialise on a deeper level with local culture, and learn. Fortunately for many folks, travelling is not only booking a trip and then sitting at the beach and drinking a cocktail – it’s much more than that.
Lastly, what makes a good Amons traveller? What advice would you give someone who’s thinking of signing up?
I would say that it’s about being good at something – to have some skill and a willingness to help. When it comes to travelling there are few things to consider. The idea of a ‘daily routine’ during a vacation is not very common for independent travellers on Amons, as they prefer diversity and spontaneous actions during their trip. Secondly, they like activities that are based on socialisation with local culture and education. Anybody who wants to learn and experience more of a ‘real’ culture will be a perfect Amons traveller.
More info: amons.co