Saturday 16 December 2017

New Irish website offers a sociable Airbnb for over-50s

Travel Insider

Peter Mangan and his father Owen in Kerry.
Peter Mangan and his father Owen in Kerry.
One of The Freebird Club's listed properties
A home from home with The Freebird Club
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Think of the ‘sharing economy’ and peer-to-peer plays like Airbnb and Uber come to mind — slick businesses aimed mainly at millennials.

But that’s not always the case.

The Freebird Club is an Irish take on the theme, a social, travel and homestay club aimed at the over 50s.

Set up by Kerryman Peter Mangan (46), Freebird lists properties in 37 countries, but it’s as much about connecting people socially as renting rooms.

In fact, Mangan’s eureka moment came when he rented his own house in Killorglin — his father Owen, a widowed vet in his 70s, welcomed the guests and loved doing it.

A sociable Airbnb for silver surfers was born.

How does it work? Users sign up, search and book rooms (in Ireland, rates average at €30-€50 a night, plus Freebird’s 12pc fee). Members also pay a once-off fee of €25, submit photo ID and hosts are interviewed by phone.

Customer service is also available by phone, SMS alerts are sent as well as email, and members can nominate a ‘buddy’ (e.g. a family member) to receive booking notifications as an added layer of reassurance.

Hosts are always at home, and they always interact with guests. “We’re not just about places,” Mangan says. “We’re about people.”

But the idea also makes business sense. Many older people have mortgages paid and time to spare. Now they have a sociable use for those spare rooms too.

Contact 01 691-3300 or freebirdclub.com.

Personal Touches

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A home from home with The Freebird Club

Fancy staying at Siobhán’s Place in Killarney? Or how about Louise’s apartment Sydney?

One of the first things you’ll notice about Freebird Club listings is how personal they are. Profile and property pix are amateur, descriptions free of PR bumpf (“We are Wi-Fi free and enjoy speaking to each other and our guests,” says one), and members list their interests, favourite movies and even their ‘philosophy of life’.

The idea is to create a community, to have members choose a companion for chats as much as a destination, and maybe even a lasting friend.

Travel Trends

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One of The Freebird Club's listed properties

By 2025, one third of Europe’s population is expected to be over 60, according to a UN report. Like everyone else, older and solo travellers are benefitting from today’s cheap flights and technology — one reason for the growing popularity of companies like Travel Department (traveldepartment.ie) and Friendship Travel (friendshiptravel.com).

The Freebird Club differs in that it’s a peer-to-peer club, so read the T&Cs and familiarise yourself with its insurance, tax and legal advice (FAQ section) before signing up.

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