Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Saturday 3 December 2016

'Airbnb has opened up rural Ireland to the world'

The home-stay network is bringing tourists to communities off the beaten track but not everyone is happy

Graham Clifford

Published 27/11/2016 | 16:20

Mullagh Lake
Mullagh Lake

Amongst the Slieve Mish Mountains near Dingle in Co Kerry weary travellers devour Brigid O'Connor's homemade apple tarts as sheep look through the window.

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North of Nenagh, Co Tipperary, the pigs snuffle by the old farmhouse and playfully root for vegetables while Margaret O'Farrell makes the bed for a couple arriving that night, and on the shores of Mullagh Lake in Cavan, Jane Shackleton is setting the fire in a white-washed cottage so visitors can warm their hands when they step in out of the November rain.

The three women have never met, but they share a profession - they are Airbnb hosts in rural Ireland.

They are trendsetters for a business model which, we're told, is sweeping across the regions and bringing tourists and much-needed revenue to parts of rural areas off the beaten track.

Jane Shackleton has a rural farm on the shores of Mullagh Lake
Jane Shackleton has a rural farm on the shores of Mullagh Lake

Earlier this month, Airbnb launched their 'Home-Sharing: Empowering Regional & Rural Ireland' report, which stated that the Airbnb community contributed an estimated €74m to regional and rural communities across Ireland in the last year.

This includes €47m of estimated visitor spending by driving additional footfall to regional businesses, and €27m earned by the host communities themselves.

Across rural Ireland many farmers are choosing to make a room or two available through Airbnb - the homestay network that enables people to list or rent short-term lodging in residential properties - to supplement their main income.

This month's report found that in the last year, 6,000 hosts in regional and rural Ireland earned an average additional income of €2,700 per household.

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Most rooms cost around €35 per person per night, and cottages or separate dwellings can cost around €100 per night.

The amounts of money may not be massive, but the sum quickly adds up, and the Airbnb owners I spoke to say they're getting busier year-on-year.

Guests stay in a rustic cottage
Guests stay in a rustic cottage

In Camp, Co Kerry, Brigid O'Connor's home is listed as 'Sheep Farm, Gleann na nGealt', and visitors post warm reviews about 'the sweetest of hosts'.

"My son was travelling and using Airbnb and suggested I do it, so I said I'd try it out and it really was one of the most wonderful decisions we ever made," explains Brigid.

"People come from all over the world to spend some time on a rural Irish farm. Sure, its lovely for them and me. They have dinner in the local restaurants in the village and get their messages in the local shop. It's been a great success."

And when Margaret O'Farrell and her other half Alfie lost their jobs during the downturn in 2009, the Airbnb business saw them through difficult days at 'Old Farm' Lorrha, North Tipperary.

"With the cutbacks, my job in the public service went, and Alfie worked in construction, which dried up - so we set about farming and doing Airbnb," says Margaret.

"We have two spare rooms in the house, a double and a twin room, and thankfully all our guests have been wonderful. The reality is we're hardly in a tourism hotspot here, but still because of Airbnb and positive reviews we're extremely busy. We also rear pigs and other animals and the visitors love the farmyard element of the place too."

For Jane Shackleton, the spread and diversity of Airbnb properties across areas which haven't been traditionally marketed as tourism destinations showcases exciting parts of the country to both domestic and international tourists.

"When we started Airbnb a year-and-a-half ago some said 'sure, no one will go to Mullagh' - but we've proved them wrong," says Jane.

"We're only an hour from Dublin and couples like to escape from the city at the weekend. The converted whitewashed harness room has attracted visitors from across the world, they eat the organic home-grown lamb, go for a pint in the nearby village and dine in local restaurants. I feel Airbnb has opened up so much of rural Ireland to the world."

Criticism

But not everyone is so sure the spread of the Airbnb enterprise across Ireland is good for Irish tourism.

The Irish Hotel Federation has raised questions about the health and safety aspect of Airbnbs, and says while its members have to operate in extremely tight regulated environments, the same is not true of their Airbnb counterparts.

The group has called for 'equal treatment' and says if its members must be fully compliant with health and safety laws, which includes having fire escapes and adequate insurance cover, then Airbnb hosts should be also.

One hotelier in Waterford told the Farming Independent that Airbnbs have reduced his annual income significantly.

"I know for a fact that I'm losing at least a couple of hundred euro a week during the summer to local Airbnbs and now during the winter I've more rooms vacant each week than in the previous year," said the source.

"My fear is that an unregulated sector like that will have a devastating impact on struggling small hotels like mine which employ staff and try to do everything by the book."

Facts

  • The recent Airbnb 'Home-sharing: Empowering Regional and Rural Ireland' report found that there were 6,000 hosts working outside of Dublin in the last year, catering for a combined 331,000 guests, with the average length of stay per guest being 2.6 nights.
  • The average age of a host in rural Ireland is 47, with 8pc of hosts in the regions being retired. And it's the women of rural Ireland who are leading the Airbnb revolution - with 67pc of listings run by women.
  • Only a fifth of those guests who use Airbnb listings in rural Ireland are Irish, with 44pc coming from the rest of Europe, 29pc from North America, and 4pc from Australia.
  • The study found that 30,000 visitors stayed in Airbnb listings in the north-west region covering Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo, where the average annual earning for a host was €1,800.
  • In the mid-east region (Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow) and in the south-east (Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford), the average earning per host was €2,300, while in the mid-west (Tipperary, Clare and Limerick) the figure was €2,100. Meanwhile hosts earned €2,500 in the western region -Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.
  • The rural hosts who earned least were in the Midlands, which includes Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath. In these counties, 180 hosts made an average of €1,000 from offering rooms in their homes to visitors.
  • Not surprisingly, rural Airbnbs in the tourist hotspot of the south-west were the busiest - the average earning per host was €3,900. Covering just Cork and Kerry, there are a combined 1,700 Airbnb hosts in these two counties, with a typical listing in Kerry receiving 38 nights booked each year.
  • The report advises that "micro-businesses and micro-entrepreneurs are not tied to cities and towns, but can grow anywhere, leveraging the natural, geological, cultural, historical and social assets of their community."

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