Retirees in South Korea are going back to work as Airbnb hosts. I stayed with two of them

Retirees are going back to work – as Airbnb hosts
Retirees are going back to work – as Airbnb hosts
Key Points
  • Seniors in South Korea are finding new purpose by turning to an unlikely platform: Airbnb.
  • CNBC stayed with a retired couple for three nights in Seoul to understand how hosting is helping seniors combat loneliness and make some income.

SEOUL, South Korea Seniors in South Korea are finding new purpose by turning to an unlikely platform: Airbnb.

Amid an aging crisis in the country, coupled with a declining birth rate, it's increasingly common for the mandatory retirement age to be as young as 55 — a possible reason why those seniors are turning to alternative sources of work.

CNBC recently stayed with a couple getting in on the trend by hosting guests in their spare bedrooms.

Growing number of senior hosts

Hong-Sam Kim, a 62-year old retiree and his homemaker wife, Young-In Jung, 60, said the platform has helped them meet new people and find purpose through work, while also generating some additional income.

"The older we get, the less we get a chance to meet young people," said Kim, who retired at 57. "From the guest house operation, I can listen to many foreigners' life (stories)."

The Kims are among a growing number of seniors in South Korea who are both mentally and physically capable of working, yet find themselves with excessive free time.

"The world is changing, and the seniors (are) also changing," JongHee Hong, Airbnb's South Korea public relations manager, said. "They are very open-minded and maybe, have lived abroad."

"I see my father's generation, my mother's generation, they devoted their whole life to develop this country but at the end, they are not very active and happy," she added. "But, if they have an opportunity for a second life, you share your wisdom with others, you share your life story with all the foreigners."

While most of the Kims' bookings come through Airbnb, they also receive bookings from their website and through word of mouth, too.

Between August 2018 and July this year, seniors over 60 in South Korea welcomed more than 350,000 guests into their homes through Airbnb — a whopping 75 percent increase from the previous year.

Globally, those seniors earned more than 2 billion dollars hosting via Airbnb in 2017 and welcomed more than 13 million guests. That made them the fastest growing age group as both hosts and travelers.

85 percent of senior hosts, meanwhile, received five-star ratings from their guests — the highest of any age group.

Staying busy

The Kims' only child, Jun-Whi Andy Kim, 23, moved out after having some differences with his parents. Now, his old bedroom — along with other rooms in the home — is used to host guests from countries ranging from Russia to Germany.

"Young generation all over the world, they don't want to get married and that's a problem," Andy's father, Hong-Sam Kim said. "Also, they don't want to deliver their baby," he said referring to South Korea's declining birthrate.

But one thing Andy and his parents can agree on is how much they've benefited from hosting guests.

"Guests always say her food is really good and compliment her cooking," Andy said.

Researchers have found that being socially connected is linked to improved health and even an extended life — people with strong social relationships are 50 percent more likely to live longer.

"Keeping themselves busy after retiring, I think that's making them still young," Andy said. "And they really look young, actually."