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I am browsing through the Quebec tourist pamphlets in the Youth Hostel lobby waiting for Guile. As decided, he comes to pick me up at 11:30 am, to give me a tour of his beautiful city. First he drives me around the quaint part of Quebec from where we head towards Montmorency Falls. He explains the history and geography of the place with great enthusiasm, whilst walking over the falls. Next, he takes me for a drive to the other side of the St. Lawrence River, to his favorite spot in the city. By the time he finishes showing me around it's 3 in the afternoon and we are completely famished; so we hunt for an eatery. Guile takes me to a gourmet pizza restaurant, where he treats me to the most delectable pizzas I have ever had.
No, Guile is not a tourist guide. Neither is he an old acquaintance. In fact, we've never met before! He is just another member of the Hospitality Club, who likes to show off his beautiful city, to people like me.
The Hospitality Club (www.hospitalityclub.org) is an online organisation dedicated to helping travellers get in contact with locals, who offer to host them for free or show them around their hometowns. A strictly non-commercial project, The Hospitality Club was founded on the belief of intercultural exchange and international friendships towards a more peaceful world: "The club is supported by volunteers who believe in one idea: By bringing travellers in touch with people in the place they visit, and by giving locals a chance to meet people from other cultures, we can increase intercultural understanding and strengthen the peace on our planet."
It all started in July 2000, when Veit Kuhne, a 22-years old student of the Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany [Images], came up with the idea to create a hospitality network on the Internet, open to everyone. With the help of his younger brother Kjell, Veit managed to start off with the first version of the site. In summer 2002, a database was built to handle the challenge of exponential increase in the number of members; today there are already over 300,000 members. Furthermore, Veit K�hne even started a mission to hitchhike around the globe and to gain publicity and members for the club. The goal of his still continuing journey is to promote intercultural hospitality and to reach a modest one million members.
Anybody can join the club as long as they provide their real names and addresses, which can be hidden from members if one so chooses. New members are then invited to fill in their profile and hosting preference. All preferences are absolutely optional and members can decide if they would like to host travellers, or only show them around their city, or then just take them out for drinks and meals. You can look up fellow Hospitality Club members by browsing a specific country, region, and city and/or by doing an advanced search to find people with specific interests, language skills, occupations, etc.
The Hospitality Club attracts a variety of very different people from different cultures, origins etc. Even so, a common characteristic to most members is the willingness to be hospitable and friendly towards strangers. The club does not only give its members the opportunity to seek free accommodation but, furthermore, fosters and encourages interaction with other members. The site forum is probably the most obvious means of communication. Thirty-nine categories are available to all members to discuss different topics, ask questions, make suggestions, and talk in general. The forum, for instance, is the place to introduce new members to the club, arrange small meetings or big events, look for travel companions, talk about different cultures, ask any kind of questions about travelling, discuss politics and news, and interact with other members in general.
Finally I got my opportunity to host my first guests, after getting a taste of other member's hospitality on my travels. Anna and Bo, two 19-year-old German students with a thirsting curiosity about India, were the perfect guests. Had a wonderful time exchanging cultural notes with them and I still remember their facial expressions when I took them into the crowded Mumbai local train to show them how so much of our population gets around the city. Pulsating with life and wonderful people -- this club is as good as it gets!
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