Meet the Airbnb hosts in their 60s

About 1,000 of Ireland’s 7,200 Airbnb hosts are in their 60s. Two such hosts, one from Clontarf and one from Mayo, reveal what led them to open their doors

Clare Ross in her home in Clontarf: “I liked the idea of having an income but not having to cook evening meals for people.” Photographs: Eric Luke

'He sent me a message to say he'd be arriving late and that he'd be tipsy," says Clare Ross (63), who has been an Airbnb host since March 2015. This online message came from a guest who had booked two nights, the first of them on St Patrick's Day.

For Ross, this message is particularly memorable, because it was sent by the person who was to be her first Airbnb guest at her home in Clontarf. A male guest who was already flagging the fact he was going to be arriving late and “tipsy” could hardly have been a worse start for an apprehensive new host who lives alone.

“I know people like to enjoy St Patrick’s Day, but I looked at his message and said, ‘What have I let myself in for?’” says Ross. “I was worried. I was nervous.”

She contacted Airbnb and asked for advice. They listened to her concerns, and cancelled the booking.


Strangers in her house

There are about 7,200 Airbnb hosts in Ireland, and Ross is one of about 1,000 who are over 60. The number of older hosts in the US is the fastest-growing demographic on the site, and it’s possible that this trend will develop in other countries.

Ross was not put off by the tipsy man. We are drinking coffee in her airy kitchen-living room, and she has just shown me around the four-bedroom home she has lived in for 20 years.

Three of her four bedrooms are now available on Airbnb, and she has had more than 100 guests in the past year, despite the fact none of the bedrooms are en suite, which apparently is the one thing pretty much everyone asks for. Most of them are visitors to Ireland.

“I was very scared of the idea of Airbnb at the beginning,” she says. “I didn’t like the idea of having pictures of my house on the internet, and neighbours knowing my business and seeing what my bedrooms looked like.

“I used to take students, but you don’t have to have pictures of your house up on a website to do that.”

Ross used to accommodate language students and knew what it was like to have strangers staying in her house. In fact, it was a German student who first told her about Airbnb and showed her the website.

The extra mile

“I liked the idea of having an income but not having to cook evening meals for students,” she says. “That was okay when I was raising my family, but in recent years it just didn’t suit any more. So now, even though I got more money from taking students per person, it all works out financially because I have more people staying with me throughout the year via Airbnb and I don’t have to be here to cook an evening meal for them.”

So what, for Ross, was the difference between opening her home on the Airbnb platform and offering a standard bed and breakfast? After all, the traditional B&B rarely offers evening meals either.

“Reviews of people by other hosts,” Ross says. “I could look online and see who the people were who were asking to come and stay in my house.

“I could see what other people had been saying about them. It made me feel safer. You can’t do that with a B&B. You don’t know who you’ll get.”

Equally important to Ross at this point in her life is that her home still feel like a home to her rather than a place where a lot of formalities have to be observed, which is what she considers the B&B hosting experience to be.

“I usually eat breakfast with my guests,” she says. “People pick up their own dishes after them. It’s not like you’re sitting waiting to be served your breakfast, that you’re going to eat in a different room. That to me is only a monetary transaction, and I’m not interested in that. I mostly do Airbnb for the social element of it.”

She often picks people up from the airport, or drops them into town, because she has the time to do it now that she is retired, and she enjoys literally going the extra miles for her guests, who are appreciative of her generosity.

“I love talking to people. And people can see from my profile that I’m a mammy and am in the suburbs, so if they’re young people who want to go out drinking in Temple Bar, they’re not going to be wanting to stay with me in Clontarf.”

The biggest benefit that Ross finds by hosting in her 60s is that the additional income she receives allows her to remain in her home at a time in life when many people living alone in a four-bedroom house would find it too large for them.

“Taking guests into my house means I can stay here and not downsize. I can still enjoy my home and, with the money I get, I use it for upkeep and for some improvements.”

No retirement age

Marie Wilson is in her mid 60s and lives just outside Westport, Co Mayo. She is a newcomer to Airbnb, having joined earlier this year.

In the past, she worked in the hospitality industry, but has now gone past the formal industry retirement age.

She and her husband have lived in their house for 28 years. “We converted part of the house to a self-contained two-bedroom apartment. It used to be the kids’ space. Now they have to make an appointment when they come to stay,” she jokes.

“So this way, I can still make an income, even though I’m officially retired. Airbnb is allowing me to continue working in the hospitality sector, but on a smaller scale – and I’m working from home. The great thing about doing this is that there is no retirement age and, because of the website, you can get to know a bit about your guests before they arrive.”

All Wilson’s guests so far have been Irish, whereas most of Ross’s are continental Europeans.

Her one apprehension before she started was that she would not have the computer skills to handle the website, but she “updated” her skills and now feels fully confident.

Although the apartment is self-contained, she still has a lot of contact with guests, who drop up for tea or a chat, or to ask about local information. So it’s social without her having to personally host the guests.

“I’m quite an energetic person and I just love meeting people,” says Wilson. “I’m going to keep at this as long as I can.”