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ALAN CLARKE: ‘When you get real gems of travel experiences, they stick with you. I remember one yurt in Mongolia,’ says the 33-year-old CEO of Homestay.com. Photo: Tony Gavin

ALAN CLARKE: ‘When you get real gems of travel experiences, they stick with you. I remember one yurt in Mongolia,’ says the 33-year-old CEO of Homestay.com. Photo: Tony Gavin

ALAN CLARKE: ‘When you get real gems of travel experiences, they stick with you. I remember one yurt in Mongolia,’ says the 33-year-old CEO of Homestay.com. Photo: Tony Gavin

Staying in a yurt in Outer Mongolia is one of Dubliner, Alan Clarke's, most memorable travel experiences.

Clarke has certainly seen his share of the world. He has climbed to Mount Everest base camp, travelled on the Trans-Siberian Express, and scaled Mount Kilimanjaro. All in all, he has visited about fifty countries.

So it's no surprise that Mr Clarke is running a global travel company. The company, Homestay.com, allows people to book accommodation in a local person's home in over one hundred countries, including Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Brazil, Ireland, Britain and Germany.

Staying in a local person's home gives you a more authentic experience of the country you are visiting and is one reason more tourists are opting for this type of accommodation, according to Mr Clarke.

"When you get real gems of travel experiences, they stick with you," said Mr Clarke. "I remember staying out in a yurt in Outer Mongolia when on a horse-riding holiday. I find experiences like that really interesting. When people are coming to Ireland, they're looking for accommodation which provides a local experience."

Homestay was set up by Debbie Flynn, who has a background in education, and Tom Kennedy, who sold Hostelworld.com for over €200m, about two-and-a-half years ago. Before co-founding the company, Flynn had arranged accommodation for students coming to Dublin - and it was this which sparked the idea for Homestay.

"Students would come to Dublin for an internship and Debbie would have a network of host families which she could place the students with," said Mr Clarke. "That's how the idea started.

"Tom and Debbie looked around and saw that the appetite for a hosted travel experience was quite broad and extended beyond students."

Homestay.com is used by tourists, students, interns and people relocating for work.

"One athlete who had come to run the London marathon booked accommodation through us for two weeks - to get a feel for London," said Mr Clarke. "Another customer used Homestay.com when he got a three-month stint as a professor in Toronto.

"I've seen students coming to UCD or Trinity College who need somewhere to stay and find their feet. People doing city breaks to London and Melbourne have also used us."

As well as the local experience, another big draw of Homestay.com is that it can work out cheaper than staying in a hotel or B&B. The average price works out at €40 a night, according to Mr Clarke, and most people stay for about twelve nights.

About 30,000 hosts have already registered on Homestay.com and 10,000 of these are available for bookings.

Many hosts sign up as a way to earn some extra cash. "The hosts may have spare rooms in their home, they may be empty nesters, or they may be just interested in meeting people from a variety of different nationalities," said Mr Clarke. "The positive experience reported by many of our guests is often driven by the appetite of the host to meet people from different walks of life."

But is there not a reluctance by some hosts to open up their homes to strangers?

"We have guest profiles so the host can see who is coming," said Mr Clarke. "There is a lot of engagement between the guest and the host before the guest turns up. We are looking to facilitate some video conversations before a booking goes through so the host is more comfortable with the person coming to their home."

As the website itself was only launched in July 2013, it is early days for the company. However, the number of bookings being made on Homestay.com has increased steadily over the last year, according to Mr Clarke.

"We are seeing a constant increase in the volume of bookings coming through the door," said Mr Clarke. "We are getting more than 100 requests a day for a booking."

To boost its market, the company also works with event organisers to arrange accommodation for people travelling to different events.

"If the Garth Brooks concert had gone ahead, there would have been a shortage of accommodation in Dublin so we could have worked with event organisers to line up accommodation for that concert," said Mr Clarke.

Homestay.com has its headquarters in Dublin. Although it has a footprint in over one hundred countries (through the hosts living there), it has no other international offices as yet. "As the business expands and grows, we hope to have international offices," said Mr Clarke.

At 33 years old, Mr Clarke, who has been ceo of Homestay.com for about a year, is a young boss. Despite his young age, he has already built up valuable experience in ecommerce.

"I'm originally from Portmarnock but I was out of Ireland for about seven years," said Mr Clarke. "I worked as a strategy consultant for McKinsey in London. I worked in corporate development with Yahoo in London and California. Then I came back to Dublin in 2011. I joined Paddy Power and ran three of their gaming businesses. I was very much involved with their online business.

"All of these jobs were tremendous training grounds for what I'm doing today. I got a great feel for the global impact that ecommerce can have."Mr Clarke feels lucky, rather than daunted, to be at the helm of a company at such a young age."To be able to build an e-commerce company which builds on an exciting part of people's lives is just great. People love to travel."

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