Although these websites are set up so that both renters and tourists can write references for each other, there is no formal vetting of either the quality of the accommodation, or the people who make use of the service. That is one place where danger may lurk, according to a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald; and the other is if those offering paid accommodation do not have formal permission to sublet, or do not make a formal agreement with the tourists.
The point is made, however, that if it works well there are benefits on both sides. It provides cheap short-stay accommodation for travellers, it allows them to experience the Australian culture first hand and the host pocks up a bit of spare cash as well as learning about other cultures first hand in a way that any amount of travelling as a tourist will never allow them to understand.
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson says that from his experience in tourism ministry, he's aware and always acknowledged, that travellers staying with family or friends is by far the largest tourist accommodation market; although this is hard to quantify since no-one fills out any forms, and no money changes hands.
Mark Tronson continues: But I wish to take that one step further, and describe the realities of missionaries who travel the world on a shoestring. Everywhere they go, they organise to stay in someone's home, experiencing the home culture and giving in return a spiritual delight.
Over the years I have travelled overseas in missionary work it has been our privilege too to be hosted by Christian families.
We also have enjoyed having missionaries stay with us for as long as I can remember, many with children the same age as ours, and they have enriched us as a family with their stories of mission adventure. Many have become lifelong friends.
Last year our neighbours were going away the week after Christmas and we had two missionary families coming through. They needed somewhere to stay for ten days to relax after a heavy duty period of Mission deputation which involves visiting churches and speaking about their missionary activities, raising funding, constantly reporting back to head office and all the other responsibilities of being on the road with a family.
They had been doing their missionary work in Peru and had many wonderful stories to tell about people who had been led to Jesus Christ in evangelism. But we were careful to put them into a situation well away from other well-meaning Christian people who might want them to come to their church and speak. This was their Respite time.
Our neighbours were pleased to have these two families stay in their home as a house sitter, and moreover were delighted to be able to serve the Lord in such a way.
Our local Baptist church supports a congregation in the Philippines where some of our church members came from. Last year a group of nine went to visit a small village where the locals hosted these nine western and pampered Australians in their shacks with mud floors and no tap water. This year thirteen are going.
This Christian interchange that is happening everyday, somewhere, all over the world, is one of the most refreshing aspects of Christian life.