Impact Journalism Day by Sparknews: A better society - No. 31

A travel club for seniors

Unlike Airbnb, the FreeBird Club is aimed at older travellers and requires hosts to be present with their guests, in order for them to meet new people while on holiday.
Unlike Airbnb, the FreeBird Club is aimed at older travellers and requires hosts to be present with their guests, in order for them to meet new people while on holiday.PHOTO: THE IRISH TIMES

DUBLIN • The sharing economy is mostly driven by and aimed at millennials, but a peer-to-peer travel club is aiming to get the older generation in on the act and address a social issue at the same time.

The idea for the FreeBird Club came about when Mr Peter Mangan started to rent his house in County Kerry on Airbnb.

While Mr Mangan was looking to make some extra income from his property, his father ended up benefiting the most.

"He was going into his 70s and there was no question that he was struggling with the downscaling in his worklife and being a widower," said Mr Mangan of his father. However, meeting and greeting guests staying in the house gave him a new lease of life. And so the FreeBird Club was born.

"I thought, there is something that Airbnb is only scratching the surface of," he said. "If you turn up the dial on the social side and make it about meeting people and not just finding a nice place to stay, you can tackle some of the challenges for older people."

 

Unlike Airbnb, the FreeBird Club requires that hosts be present, since the social interaction is as much a part of it as providing accommodation.

Safety concerns were another important factor for those whom Mr Mangan talked to. It gave rise to the idea of a club where those who want to take part in it have to become members and pay a fee to join. "With Airbnb they felt anyone could be on it and they didn't trust that. If it was a proper club where you have to pay to join, they would have more trust in it," he said.

Mrs Bethia Tooth was one of the first guests who took part in a pilot of the FreeBird Club and travelled from her home in the UK to Kerry, her first trip to Ireland. She had a "lovely" time staying with hosts in Killorglin. "It's not just a bed and breakfast," she said, "That's what made me so keen on the club."

While Mrs Tooth travelled to Ireland with a friend, she said the next time she uses the club, she would be happy to travel on her own, something she wouldn't have considered previously.

"My husband died six years ago, and before the FreeBird Club, it would never have entered my head that I would go somewhere new by myself," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'A travel club for seniors'. Print Edition | Subscribe