The authors bear the responsibility for the content of this thesis. The faculty Business Administration of the Erasmus University Rotterdam is only responsible for the didactical guidance and is not responsible for the content.
The idea for this thesis arose out of our travel experiences and using international networks of hosts and travellers providing opportunities for personal contact between people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. These networks raised our interest and we started exploring the range of existing networks and their challenges. We chose to use the general term hospitality networks as the subject of our thesis. Our working definition of a hospitality network is:
A network that wants to bring together people with a shared interest or goal by offering each other hospitality in the form of an ‘open doors’ system.
By using this definition we broaden the field of networks including networks targeted at special interest groups and both more traditional offline and more modern online networks. The main challenges we observed are twofold: firstly to analyse the opportunities and threats of the Internet and secondly how to recruit new members, especially younger ones.
The goal of our thesis study is to develop a general concept of a healthy hospitality network that portrays a possible way of organizing a well functioning network in the 21st century. The relevance of this study is to elucidate the universal value of hospitality, the importance of community development and to contribute to tolerance and world peace. In this time of decreasing social capital, hospitality networks can play an important role.
The methodology we have used for our research is that of a multiple-case study. The distinctive need for a case study arises out of the desire to understand a complex social phenomenon. The case study allows an investigation to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real-life events. The case study’s unique strength is its ability to deal with a full variety of evidence: documents, artefacts, surveys, interviews and observations that we will use to gather information.
The development of a rich theoretical framework is important because it will also be used to generalize the case study results into a more general concept. Case studies must examine the evidence from different perspectives in order to increase the chance that a case study will be exemplary and to prevent a single point of view.
So we formed our theoretical framework in four perspectives of examining hospitality networks. The perspectives are respectively:
Each perspective will provide us with theories that can possibly explain the functioning of hospitality networks. The theories originate from distinct scientific fields i.e. sociology, psychology, anthropology, organisational science and computer science and we integrate them in our research to achieve an interdisciplinary approach.
The first and main case we describe is Servas, an international non-profit, non-governmental peace organization encompassing an international network of hosts and travellers. The purpose of the network is to contribute to world peace, raise goodwill and understanding by providing opportunities for personal contacts among people of different cultures, backgrounds and nationalities. We chose this network not only because it’s one of the oldest and largest networks, but also because it’s a traditional one struggling with the challenges of a changing environment. This is also the network in which we have gained our experiences as host, traveller and youth coordinator.
To contrast with Servas and to explore the wide range of networks we also examined other hospitality networks. We will explain the implications of the four different perspectives by pointing at several aspects of these hospitality networks.
The empirical material is interpreted on the basis of the four perspectives to present an interdisciplinary general concept of a healthy hospitality network in the 21st century. This general concept won’t encompass absolute judgements on how hospitality networks should operate, but will stress areas of attention that can be applied to specific hospitality networks to help them to reconsider their functioning in the 21st century.
The individual perspective elucidates that online communication is easy, fast, cheap and practical, but at the same time interaction becomes poorer and less personal or is experienced as such because of reduced social cues. Hospitality networks should provide different forms of online communication to facilitate members both before as after the actual exchange. ‘Online’ hospitality networks enable members to present themselves extensively and offer sophisticated member search options. The Internet empowered hospitality networks, but hospitality networks should not exclude members that don’t have access or are not familiar with the Internet. Intercultural competence is relevant in communicating with other members with different cultural backgrounds. Hospitality networks should focus more on facilitating and training intercultural understanding.
The sense of belonging to a community, trust and co-operation grows through clear goals and policies of the network and selection of members. Idealism is a stronger bonding factor than for example age, profession or sexual nature. ‘Offline’ hospitality networks are considered safer than ‘online’ networks, but many ‘traditional’ as well as technical tools can also provide security and privacy to ‘online’ networks. Critical mass is fundamental, too few community members or not enough activity in the form of exchanges and communication will lead to fewer interactions between members and in the end disintegrate these networks.
At the organizational level we see that small, horizontal, focused organizations serve the core activity, facilitating exchanges, best. Organizations should limit themselves to these core activities to prevent them from becoming cumbersome bureaucratic organizations. Voluntary non-profit organizations like grassroots associations support trust and co-operation and increase the building of social capital. There exist so many and diverse networks. They should consider co-operation and establishing inter-organisational links. This way they can share resources i.e. funds, expertise and promotion, to cope with the challenges the environment poses. Commercialisation of hospitality networks does hardly improve the service level and endangers trust, idealistic altruism and the sense of community and ownership, while shifting more to non-member benefits instead of member benefits.
The societal perspective describes the balance between bonding and bridging. Bonding is looking inwardly and tends to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups. Bridging networks are outward looking and encompass people across diverse social and cultural cleavages. It’s essential to find the right position on the spectrum between these extremes that depend mainly on the purpose of the network. New technologies increase the ease of communication and can bring together many members of any global thinly spread interest group, but can also lead to a divide between the ones that have access and the ones that don’t have access, ‘modern impoliteness’ and acting without obligations. Hospitality networks can be counterparts of this tendency by giving hospitality back its personal, cultural and social form in an increasing volatile and individualistic society. In this way hospitality networks can increase social capital within the society.