Digital Booking Sites

Couchsurfing nearly doubles its community but risks losing loyal users in rebranding

@SamShankman

Nov 27, 2012 12:14 am

Skift Take

Couchsurfing offers travelers somethingnone of its competitors can match: free housing abroad. The organization will have to be careful not to ostracize loyal users on its journey for a fresh look.

— Samantha Shankman

Free Report: The State of Student Travel

CouchSurfing.Org

Couchsurfing's new website features a cleaner design with a white background. CouchSurfing.Org


Couchsurfing began with a start as humble as many of its members’ piggy banks. The website connecting travelers with local couches around the world grew a tight-knit community through word-of-mouth recommendations. The organization is now undergoing a major revamp fueled by a new CEO and its most recent $15 million round of funding led by General Catalyst Partners.

The site’s community has almost doubled since its first round of funding in August 2011 from 3,075,160 members to 5,454,970 members today. The once-nonprofit website now earns a revenue from member’s $25 verification fee. Verification makes a large difference on a site built upon trust, although Couchsurfing hasn’t responded with how many users are currently verified.

Long-time users dubious of rebranding

Although the site has grown, not all feedback has been positive from Couchsurfing’s older members. Users have criticized the visible changes to the website’s logo and color scheme.

A Facebook page pleading the organization to bring back the design only has 157 Likes, but the sentiment is repeated in forums where the logo is said to be too generic and the white background too sterile. They argue a logo without a couch fails to represent the community, although Couchsurfing staff responded by explaining the logo “represent a path or a journey.”

Users also feared the rebrand meant the site would sway from its original utility of connecting hosts and travelers. Espinoza confirmed with Skift that this is not the case.

Other steps towards rebranding

What is set to be the biggest step in the rebranding has yet to be announced, but will incorporate crowdsourced travel knowledge from local communities around the world.

“We are building a new set of pages that facilitate information sharing,” said Espinoza.

Other aspects of the rebranding include a new Help Desk system that is “easier to use and more responsive to travelers.” This could mean customer service via Twitter or a more automated search for FAQs.

Couchsurfing also plans “substantial enhancements to come to the app in the next six months.”

Competition

CEO Tony Espinoza says he isn’t worried about competition from a growing number of new booking sites including Airbnb, Hipmunk, and Hotel Tonight.  The site caters to a niche group of travelers lending to a “community that grows itself.”  Based on the grounds that travelers trust one another and are looking for new international connections fuels the unique community.

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