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Fred Lanouette, an Uber driver in Seattle, follows a routine once a passenger gets into his 2015 white Toyota Camry.
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“When the person is sitting there, if they immediately go to their phone, I just keep my mouth shut,” he says. “But if they want to converse, man, I dive right in!”
And the 81-year-old Lanouette has plenty of stories to share. How he instantly fell in love with his wife of 60 years. How he sang on cruise ships in Hawaii. And how he worked as an entertainment director for two casinos during Las Vegas’ golden age in the 1960s.
With his gregarious personality and showbiz background, Lanouette easily racks up compliments from his passengers. In fact, according to Uber, he’s one of the all-time leaders in the number of “great conversation” compliments among drivers for the service. One rider raving about Lanouette wrote: “The world needs more people like Fred. Just an incredibly genuine, kindhearted human whose purpose has been to put others first. They don't make ’em like that anymore!”
Lanouette, who has driven more than 2,700 trips in the two years he’s been with Uber, is at the forefront of an emerging trend. The past few years have seen growth in both the gig workforce (very short-term jobs such as driving for Lyft or doing chores for others on TaskRabbit) and the sharing economy (short-term rentals of personal property, such as a room in your house on Airbnb or your car on Turo). As older adults increasingly use these services to earn extra income, they’re becoming some of the most highly rated providers in these communities.
For example, research from Airbnb revealed that women over age 60 receive the highest percentage of five-star reviews from customers among all hosts in the United States. Of guests who were hosted by older women, 63 percent rated the experience five stars (the highest possible). According to an Airbnb executive, one reason older women and men are signing up to host is for the extra income: $8,350 per year, on average, for a single listing for hosts over age 65. But they’re staying with the business and thriving because of the sense of community they help build.
“[The money] may be why hosts come to Airbnb, but they stay for the social benefits,” says Chip Conley, strategic adviser for hospitality and leadership at the company. For hosts who stay in their home while visitors are there, the rentals can offer the chance to learn about the world. “Airbnb hosts can travel without ever leaving their living room, and 64 percent of older adults report that hosting has positively changed the way they think,” Conley says. “They learn about new cultures, meet friends from around the world and even travel to visit their former guests.”