A growing number of farming and rural households are looking to Airbnb as a way to supplement their income. Tipperary free-range pig farmers Margaret O’Farrell and Alfie McCaffrey are among those who have signed up.
“We initially started with Airbnb as just a fun thing to do, and to supplement our income while trying to get full time jobs, having both been made redundant,” said O’Farrell.
The couple, who relocated to Lorrha in Tipperary from Dublin in 2003, also run pig rearing and bread making courses from their farmhouse, which is on 2.5ha.
“We began our Airbnb journey in 2013. We chose to use Airbnb as we felt that with the huge marketing system it had behind it, it was going to be a much quicker route to ‘market’.
We didn’t even consider the ‘farmhouse B&B’ route. We still don’t have a sign at our gate. We don’t really want complete strangers rocking up to the door, looking for a room tonight.
The Airbnb registration process is very simple and user-friendly, according to O’Farrell. “Of course we had the odd hiccup at the beginning, but it was very easily rectified.”
The couple currently offer two bedrooms to guests. “We provide bed and breakfast, with the optional extra of joining us in the kitchen for dinner. We aim to use our own produce which is supplemented by other local products.
“Every year the guest profile has been slightly different. Last year, we had mainly European guests: Swiss and German.
“This year our guests have been mainly from the US, with the balance being from Germany. We get the occasional Irish guest, usually in the off-season, when people want just a short weekend break,” said O’Farrell.
Families, she said, are definitely drawn by the idea of staying on a working farm. “Also a lot of our American guests like to come here because they know the source of the food.
“We grow a lot of our own produce, and for instance, only serve our own pork/bacon and eggs for breakfast. Conversation over dinner invariably revolves about food and the provenance of food,” said O’Farrell.
The couple have been selling pork to people around the country in recent years. “This year we introduced the idea of buying half a pig or a full pig so families get together to share a pig.
“We ‘grow’ the pig for them, and it will be ready for meat collection in November, so they get their Christmas ham out of it.”
They also started offering bread making courses this year. “Most guests are intrigued by Irish soda bread, and Alfie had usually ended up making a soda bread with the guests one of the mornings, so we decided to add it as an optional extra.”
“On a few occasions, we have collected people from buses, but as we are very rural, we advise people that they need to rent a car.
The main ‘pro’ with Airbnb is that you can ‘see’ who is coming to stay in your home. Airbnb has a strict registration process for guests to go through, so you know that people have been verified before they arrive at your door.
“If you want to take ‘time out’ and not have guests, you can block your calendar.”
The downside, she said, is that it can be exhausting. “People are in your home, so your own privacy is compromised. The cleaning is a mammoth job,” O’Farrell said.
“The highlight would be the wonderful people we have met. We have definitely met many people who we would now consider friends, and we still keep in touch with them.
This year we have had guests who have become because friends have recommended us to them. We’ve also had quite a few guests come back to stay, which is really good.
The couple have had just one bad experience with a contact. “There was one abusive person who tried to book and stay, and they went on a rant about killing animals.
“I obviously did not approve her to come and stay, just immediately contacted AirBnB, and they were wonderful in how quickly they dealt with it,” said O’Farrell.
Her advice to other farmers and rural dwellers contemplating doing Airbnb? “It isn’t easy. It is hard work. As I often say, you have to put your ‘smiley’ face on all the time. If you don’t like people, it is not for you.
“While you are not a hotel, people have expectations of the standards they expect, and they are paying for the experience. If you do decide to go into it, do it well.“