Broadband connection enables retirement business for go-ahead couple.

It may not have been Neville Johnson's worst nightmare – but it was a moment he would rather forget.

With retirement from his teaching career looming he and his wife Margaret decided to take the plunge into the accommodation business by offering holidaymakers rooms at their Matakana property near Warkworth.

At the time (2007) aged in his 60s, the now 70-plus pensioner knew he was on a winner; Matakana is one of Auckland's premier tourist destinations popular for wine, food, coastal walks, beaches and the nearby Tawharanui Regional Park; there was no shortage of guests.


The couple began by taking bookings by phone, which was when the problems began: "We found we were getting a few double bookings," says Neville. "I remember one in particular I took over the phone; it went right out of my head because I didn't write it down."

The guest eventually turned up but you guessed it – with no record of his booking, the Johnsons had allocated the room to other guests.

"It wasn't a great moment," says Neville. "I don't recall him being overjoyed. We spent a good hour hunting for alternative accommodation for him and while it's not something I really want to remember, it did send a strong message to us to change our system."

Deciding to move bookings to an online system, the couple instantly eliminated much of the human-error factor: "We found being on the web enabled us to synchronise our booking calendar and remove the risk of double bookings - and if he (the double-booked guest) reads this article, please forgive us."

Now operating through Airbnb, their business is run almost totally online.

Neville's situation is not uncommon and is a reflection of a new generation of over 60-year-olds who have a renewed outlook on their golden years. Not content to wind down and spend all their time on the golf course or cruise ships, they are eager to keep themselves busy and embrace technology to do that.

New research by Chorus shows over 40 per cent of Kiwis are keen to start new projects in their 60s and discover the advantages of connectivity in doing so, while 54 per cent of those 60-plus are keen to get involved in their communities. Over half of those 60-plus described themselves as tech-savvy.

Both Neville and Margaret love the modern connected world. Enthusiastic users of social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, the Johnsons stay in touch with family (they have four grandchildren) and friends.


With a daughter and one of their grandchildren living near Byron Bay in Australia they regularly keep in touch using Skype and platforms like Instagram while in recent weeks they have been linked online with another daughter who is travelling in Canada.

But it was not always so. "It's a gradual process," says Neville. "I think you become more comfortable the more you use it. At the start, I think some have a fear of causing massive breakdowns or malfunctions if they hit the wrong button but I've seen people come to it late in life and succeed."

Neville spent most of the last 30 years of his teaching career as a primary school principal - first for four years at Leigh Primary School and then 23 years at Matakana Primary School - before retiring in 2009. Margaret, who is now approaching her 70s, retired in 2013 after working for 21 years as a receptionist at a dental clinic in Warkworth.

They got the idea for their business while staying at Akaroa on Banks Peninsula in Canterbury where Neville was attending a principals' conference: "It was beautiful accommodation and we thought 'we would like to do this'," says Margaret.

"We enjoy it, it's a great way to live now we've retired from our day jobs," says Neville. "It keeps us extremely fit (the couple do the cleaning and laundry themselves), we make reasonable money and meet some amazing people.

"I remember guests who had lived in the old East Germany at the time the Berlin Wall came down, it was interesting talking to them.

"We also make friends like the couple from Oregon (in the United States) who stayed with us three years in a row and then invited us to go and stay with them. We had a wonderful holiday over there."

Neville, who also busies himself in the community in his role as chairman of the Matakana Hall Society, says although they put in about 30 hours a week (their property includes accommodation for up to nine people) they still know how to balance their lives.

Always jumping at the chance to get out for coffee, the couple go on regular trips and Neville is keen on fishing: "I've got a fizz boat and about once a month I go to a spot in Kawau Bay where I catch snapper and occasionally a bronze whaler; I also play a bit of golf and usually break 100."