A new Airbnb-style accommodation site specifically aimed at the over 50s has been launched. The Freebird Club was introduced in April this year and already has over 1,700 members in 38 countries around the world.                                         

Freebird is the brainchild of Irish businessman Peter Mangan and it lets empty-nesters who are aged 50 or over to host other people of a similar age in their homes. Unlike other peer-to-peer homestay businesses, however, owners can’t just hand over the keys, and must be home for some of the time that their guests are staying, adding a unique social element and placing a value on company as well as space.

Mangan decided to buck the trend of most start-ups and ignore the so-called millennials after he identified a gap in the market because of the increase of older people globally and the fact that people are remaining healthy and active for longer. He also recognised that, at the same time, loneliness and isolation among older people has become a growing issue, as many older people live alone, often in houses with empty rooms.

His main inspiration, however, was closer to home: his father, Owen Mangan, a retired and recently widowed veterinarian in his late 70s, helped him take care of a cottage in County Kerry that he rented out via Airbnb.

“My father was doing most of the meeting of the guests on my behalf,” he told Forbes. “He was living alone and adjusting to that phase of life and he was using words like ‘boredom’ a lot. But what was enjoyable for him was meeting older guests who came to stay. They’d go to the pub together and go sightseeing and have dinner. There was real bonding. The common denominator was their age group.”

“As people age, their world and their social circle gets smaller,” Mangan said in another interview with The Times. “In Ireland, we have a large proportion of older people living in rural areas who are either intimidated by accommodation sites or reluctant to travel on their own, but this could help them go places without apprehension.

“We don’t want to be considered just another travel accommodation site. We’re more of a club for older adults. Freebird is about empowering older people and giving them opportunities to be mobile and vibrant.”

It costs €25 to become an approved Freebird Club member and you can charge any amount you like to rent out your home. The fees are similar to Airbnb’s: guests are charged 12 per cent above the rental fee and hosts pay three per cent, to cover processing costs.

You simply click on the Join Club button on the website, provide some personal details, complete a profile description and pay the membership fee. Once you’re a member, you can list your available accommodation by clicking on the Become a Host button. Freebird staffers – half of whom must be over 50 – interview all prospective hosts and also read reviews from hosts and guests after each stay. For an extra level of security and reassurance there is also a ‘buddy’ system that shares information about the hosts and other details of your booking with a close friend or family member.

Mangan has big plans to grow the business, beginning with building its web development team and ramping up marketing and customer service for which he is currently attempting to raise €150,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo which ends shortly.

“Our vision involves going beyond the sharing economy to champion a new ‘caring economy’, where the social impact is as important as the financial,” he told Silicon Republic.

“We want to contribute to a world where people no longer find themselves lonely or isolated or disconnected by virtue of their age. We want to enable financial independence and economic sustainability for older adults. We want to empower and inspire older adults to enjoy the world around them, regardless of age.

“In that context, our overall business goal is to start a de facto seniors movement and, in the process, become the world leader in social travel for the 50-plus market within the next five years.”

Would you like to take part in this sort of home-stay? Let us know your thoughts via our social media platforms! For more information on activities for seniors, check out the Wise Old Elephant blog!