On the day we heard that the topic chosen to highlight today on Blog Action Day is water, a timely article was published in the Guardian: 'Private water raiding threatens Angkor's temples built on sand - Unchecked pumping of scarce water resource from under Siem Reap puts stability of Cambodia's ancient monuments at risk'. A quote:
But the water used to keep them so is being sucked from groundwater under the city, threatening the stability of the centuries-old, world heritage-listed landmark.' Read the article in full.
Travel has many positive benefits - from enriching the lives of those lucky enough to be able to travel to increasing tolerance and understanding between people from different cultures. Although it unfortunately doesn't always happen, travellers can also bring much needed money into the poorest communities by supporting local businesses. However, as shown in the Guardian article, a growth in numbers of visitors to popular attractions like the temples in Angkor can have a potentially devastating effect. In this case, the increased demand on scarce water resources is being used to supply hotels catering to guests who will generally be unaware that their presence (and expectations of water to always be on tap) could be damaging the very temples they came to see.
Less Waste - For a start, home exchangers aren't contributing to the development of hotels and resorts but, instead, make use of homes that would otherwise be left empty while the owners are away. Just as when living at home, home exchangers choose when laundry needs to be done (despite all those 'green' notices in hotel bathrooms to leave your towels on the floor to show when you need fresh supplies, how many times do you return to find your still clean towels replaced by freshly laundered ones?). When living in someone else's home (and they in yours) there's a great incentive to not only treat the home with care but also to avoid wasting energy and water (as most exchangers continue to pay their own household bills while away).
Supporting Local Businesses - One of the main attractions of home exchange for many is the chance to live in a real neighbourhood, shopping in local stores and markets, eating in recommended restaurants, and generally experiencing what it's like to 'live like natives' in a new area. This is far better for the infrastructure of the local economy with money for resources, including water, circulated within the community rather than spent in large international hotel chains with little money likely to remain for the benefit of local people.
Attractions Off the Beaten Track - It's great to have a once in a lifetime experience of visiting a well-known attraction thousands of miles away but there's so much to discover closer to home. And who better to guide you to the attractions that few tourists will ever find than the family you are swapping homes with? One of the pleasures of exchanging homes is sharing tips on things to see and places to visit that aren't over-run with too many visitors and so not depleting scarce resources like water.
As I write this (on 1 October), visitors to one major international event, the Ryder Cup taking place at Celtic Manor, Newport, are definitely not experiencing a water shortage as the golf is suspended today due to non-stop rain. Choose your home exchange location carefully (like Wales in October - now you know why the grass is so green!) and you can still travel but without contributing to the devastating effects of water shortage in countries not so blessed as Wales.