Forget Couches: Discover More with Roomsurfer

By Claire Adamson |

Everyone knows that the best way to explore a new city is to be shown around by a local. How else can you discover that the best view of the sunset in Berlin is from Modersohnbrücke, or that Sudanese street food from Weserstrasse will be a transcendent experience?

Roomsurfer is a new Web platform for accommodation aiming to address this by connecting people who want to engage more thoroughly with a city with couches, spare rooms and the locals who they belong to. The service is similar to Couch Surfing or even AirBnB, but the big twist is that  locals and tourists are matched automatically based on their interests.

Using Facebook open graph integration, Roomsurfer has created an algorithm where a traveller’s history of likes and interactions on Facebook is analyzed and matched with a host who has similar likes and interactions. You sign up with Facebook, plug in your dates and destination, and are then given a short list of people who share your interests and are available to host you.

As an example, if you were headed for London and wanted to meet up with a fellow beer geek who could show you around some of the city’s best craft breweries, or you were off to Barcelona and wanted to check out the city’s hip hop scene, Roomsurfer is able to give you a short list of possible hosts without you having to scroll through a huge list of results.

Targeting the Backpacker

Roomsurfer is targeting the backpacker – the traveler who usually stays in hostels, has little money and is interested in a more intrepid traveling experience. The obvious comparison is with Couch Surfing, an international community of travelers and hosts who give up space and free time in order to make connections across the world; a service that is usually offered for free.

Community Manager Monica Zaldivar acknowledges that Roomsurfer will never  convert the hardcore couch surfers, but rather the casual couch surfers who don’t want to expend the effort of trawling through results: “With couch surfing, the idea is that you don’t pay the money itself, but you pay for the time you’re spending on looking for people, for hosts.”

Monica identifies hostels as being the main competition, arguing that services like AirBnB and Wimdu are much more expensive than Roomsurfer, which aims to offer accommodation for €30 or less. She is a fan of hostels, but says that Roomsurfer offers a nicer and more personalized service for a similar price. “When you are in a hostel, cool, you meet other people. You share with more than four people in the room itself, and then if you ask for recommendations a hostel is going to point you in the direction of their partners who they have co-operations with.”

The Facebook open graph integration means that Roomsurfer is able to turn the hours that a person has spent in front of their computer into something useful. As well as the connection of people based on their interests, the integration with Facebook is also able to offer security by giving prospective hosts and guests an immediate and tangible history that is much quicker than manual verification of address or credit card, something that Roomsurfer also does.

The Pros Outweigh the Cons

There are of course disadvantages to using the open graph, including the fact that some users may be distrusting of signing up online with their Facebook details. But Monica believes that as the service gains traction and more people come on board, users will realize that the pros outweigh the cons.

Using a similar business model to AirBnB, Roomsurfer takes a small fee from the host’s earnings. Support is offered to its users, and fees are not charged until 24 hours after the guest has arrived. If a transaction does go wrong there will be someone there to help. Roomsurfer is currently in beta and is signing up hosts on the homepage now. It is looking to launch fully in Berlin later in the year, with London and Barcelona to follow.

In a world where every second new startup seems to just add a social layer to an existing business model, Roomsurfer is interesting because it is engages this social layer in a practical way. Monica says: “I do think that the open graph is absolutely an endless source of really good information. It’s a goldmine if you are intelligent enough to know exactly how you should leverage that information.”