With Pride season upon us, and Ireland suddenly turned by the Yes vote into a top gay destination, there are plenty of opportunities to be had hosting LGBT tourists to these shores. Four Airbnb hosts talk to Brian Finnegan about the experience of opening their homes to visitors.
On an average night across planet Earth, over 400,000 people are being hosted in Airbnb accommodations. They’re staying in rooms in people’s houses, or private houses or apartments. They’re staying in igloos, villas, castles, boathouses, tree houses, lighthouses, and even on islands. The company, which facilitates people not ordinarily in the tourism industry to rent out accommodation, has opened a whole new world of travel, giving guests unique insights into the places they visit, and unique places to stay, far away from the form-fitting hotels that dominated the market just seven years ago when Airbnb was founded in San Francisco.
This month in Ireland, as we gear up for the biggest ever Pride festivals across the country, Airbnb launches #hostwithpride, an initiative that seeks to attract new hosts for travellers who will be arriving on our shores to celebrate the year in which Ireland voted Yes to marriage equality. With that in mind four hosts from the LGBT community tell us how they got involved in sharing their homes with tourists from all over the world, what it’s brought into their lives, and why they are hosting with pride.
Dardo, Temple Bar, Dublin
“I travel often for work and also take quite long holidays, so my apartment was sitting empty for two or three months a year. I heard about Airbnb, checked their website and decided to give it a go. I was surprised by how quickly I started getting enquiries and reservations.
Airbnb make everything very easy. You set up your apartment or room on their website in no time, you have control on how much you charge, and they even send their own photographer to do a photoshoot of your property free of charge. They take payment from the guests so you don’t have to worry about credit card fraud; you get paid after guest checks in and always on time. If you have a problem their technical support is always very helpful and they’ve also set up forums where you can communicate with other hosts in your city and share your experiences.
People have to go through a lot of verifications before they can make a booking. You also have control which booking to accept or not, so if for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable with the person who wants to book your place you just decline it.
I think at the beginning the majority people using Airbnb were more ‘adventurous’ types who had travelled extensively, but now it’s a bit more mainstream. More people realise that for the price of a dull hotel room you can get something with much more character, and with a more personal touch.
In general most people want to be shown how things work in the apartment and get some local recommendations, but after that they prefer to be left alone. Americans tend to ask more questions, especially before they arrive, but they are also usually the most generous with their reviews, thank-you cards and gifts when they depart.
“#hostwithpride is a great initiative because Dublin is an exciting place to be.”
With Airbnb you have much more variety of places to rent, many times in areas that are not covered by hotels and are less tourist-oriented. Plus you get the local recommendations of your host, so overall you get a much richer experience.
I think Airbnb’s #hostwitpride initiative is great because Dublin is such an exciting place to be right now. Over the last few years there have been so many new places opening and a lot of exciting things happening around the city. After quite a depressing time where many people were emigrating, there’s a new optimism in the air. The enthusiasm of all the people in the Yes Equality Campaign for the Marriage Referendum was incredible and the atmosphere when the results were announced was like nothing I experienced before in Dublin.”
Seamus & Michael, Clontarf, Dublin
“Some friends of ours had been hosting for a little while and making a bit of money at it, so two years ago we decided to give it a go. We rent out a room in our place year round, and we rent the whole place whenever we are planning to take a holiday.
The first time you host a paying guest in your home is always a little strange. We weren’t worried so much as anxious that we would get on with our guests, and most importantly, that they would enjoy their stay with us. However, from the first guest we’ve welcomed, it’s been absolutely fine. Most people have been really personable. The review-based system keeps everyone on their best behaviour, and we’re very clear in our house rules what’s allowed and what isn’t. The worst thing that’s happened is a guest using up all the hot water!
Hosting means your place has to be ready to welcome guests at short enough notice, so it incentivises you to keep it looking smart. The extra cash is really handy and renting your whole place when you’re away takes a lot of the sting out of travelling expenses.
Guests often look to their hosts for recommendations and tips for visiting the city, so hosting has meant we keep our ears to the ground a bit more when it comes to what’s happening in the city, festivals, culture-wise or even new and interesting restaurants.
We have hosted a number of LGBT guests over the last two years. It makes very little difference from our perspective, but we understand why guests would like to stay with LGBT hosts. It means people can be themselves, and it also means that as gay hosts we can give a little bit more insight into the gay scene, where guests might like to hang out and what they might expect as visitors in the city.
“As gay hosts we can give a little bit more insight into the scene.”
Our most interesting guests so far were a lovely vegan couple in their 70s, who were on their honeymoon travelling around the world. They were really cool, had a great attitude, and were great for the chats. They made vegan burgers for us, and we spent a super evening at home, helping them plan their trip around Ireland. Some guests are happy to be left to their own devices, and that’s fine, but sometimes you get really friendly guests who are a pleasure to host.
Sometimes we’ll only see the guests once or twice their whole stay, and sometimes we’ll end up sharing a meal or watching a movie with them. It’s lovely to have that mix. We have a dog, and some people like to take her for a walk to the nearby park or the beach. It’s entirely up to the guests as to the amount of interaction we have with them.
We pride ourselves on being able to give the guests good recommendations as to what sights to take in, where to avoid, and try to give the visitors the best impression of the city. I think for this reason guests get a bespoke experience. We have stayed all over the world in Airbnbs, both where we have rented the whole place and have very little interaction with our hosts, and where we have stayed in a private room with the host, and if it’s a short stay, you really do get more out of a visit where you can obtain the insider’s knowledge.”
Kate, Kilmainham, Dublin
“I’m a freelance digital media teacher, so when the holidays arrive, my work and income shift down a gear. A friend had been doing Airbnb successfully for quite a while so I decided to try it last summer. Within hours of setting up my profile I had my first booking and I haven’t really looked back.
At the moment I rent out my spare room a few nights per week. It’s a great way to help with the mortgage for someone like me.
I don’t say I’m ‘LGBT friendly’ on my Airbnb host profile because I have no preference as to how my guests identify, and I hope they feel the same about me. Saying that, I’m sure there are LGBT travellers who would prefer to know that their host is okay with them as guests.
I think #hostwithpride is a lovely idea to bring people together, but the idea that one day gender and sexuality will be a non-issue for guests and hosts alike is even lovelier.
I filter my bookings. I have a lot of first-time bookings from couples and women traveling by themselves. Less so from men traveling alone, and I would be a little more cautious with men in those cases. At the end of the day, anyone coming into your home puts you in a vulnerable position, so if I feel even slightly concerned or unsure about someone when they make first contact, I am totally happy to decline the booking. There is an option for guests to “Instant Book” on Airbnb, no communication required, just select the dates and click! I can’t see myself ever wanting to set this up.
“I’m sure there are a lot of LGBT travellers who would prefer to know that their host is okay
with them as guests.”
For me, Airbnb offers so much that other kinds of accommodation does not. As a tourist, nothing compares to speaking with someone who has spent years living in the area you are visiting. The advice I give is based purely on my own experience as a Dublin native, but I also rely on my guests to tell me what they have enjoyed as a tourist and what they would recommend to future guests.
Airbnb guests are so considerate and respectful. It’s very rare to get a guest that thinks it’s their apartment to do as they please – of course you want each guest to feel at home, but there is a clear understanding that it’s your apartment and they are there as a guest.
When guests ask me what it feels like to host, the only way I can describe it is that it feels like I’m travelling myself, but without actually leaving my apartment. The transient nature of it feels like how I’ve felt travelling, moving on to different places every few days, except with Airbnb I stay where I am and everyone else moves. I like the feeling; I’m learning something about the world without actually going anywhere. And of course the people I meet are absolutely lovely.”
Ann & Jenny
“In 2012 we traveled to Canada and had the most wonderful experience with our Airbnb host, Carla. In the months before our trip she helped organise a very romantic marriage proposal by Jenny. Carla helped Jenny locate a canoe, local grown blue and green flowers, and a hamper of local organic produce. She even canoed down the Niagara River and found a perfect (and safe) spot to land the canoe so that Jenny could pop the question. She did all of this via email, with us as complete strangers.
We bought a house in 2013 and when we felt ready to host ourselves we got set up, just over a year later. We are both great believers in the kindness of strangers. Anything that keeps your home a bit open and brings new and interesting people into your life is naturally enhancing. It helps pay the bills too!
The Airbnb hosts in Limerick that we’ve met are passionate about loving and promoting the city. Limerick is a beautiful city with lots to do. We have amazing restaurants and pubs, historical and cultural sites. Unfortunately we are one of the underdogs of Irish tourism.
Our involvement with guests varies. Sometimes guests spend very little time in the house and are out all day. When we can, if the guests are interested, we chat or even take them to our very charming local pub for a pint or two.
“We both think that LGBT hosts should be leading the charge to welcome our new wave of rainbow tourists.”
We are very clear and open on our profile that we are a couple, so that naturally draws LGBT guests. I know when we are booking Airbnb abroad, we want to make sure that the listing is gay-friendly, so it makes sense that others would seek out to stay with a same-sex couple. Our home is ‘everyone friendly’ and so we have attracted people, LGBT and straight, who are a good fit for us.
As an LGBT host home, we have also hosted people who are newly out, or still discovering themselves. To have a safe, open and welcoming place to stay while on holiday can still be difficult to find. To #hostwithpride gives us the opportunity to offer this gift to someone.
We hosted a few guests during the Marriage Equality campaign, and on the day the result was announced. It was very special to share this victory with our guests, who were from all over the world. We listened to how one guest followed the last day of canvassing, vote day, the count and finally the results all as she travelled via airports from the US to the UK, and then to Ireland.
Ireland is at the forefront of LGBT rights at the moment, and is now one of the most equal countries for LGBT people to travel to and live in. We both think that we as LGBT hosts should be leading the charge to welcome our new wave of rainbow tourists.”
For Pride 2015, Airbnb are inviting you to #hostwithpride. If you want to know more check out www.airbnb.com/host. Airbnb are also inviting all their Irish LGBT hosts and potential hosts, and general Pride revealers to join them during the Dublin Pride Parade. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an invite and #hostwithpride t-shirt!