A NAKED NICHE
Last summer we enjoyed a very pleasant week’s holiday at the Vera Playa Club Hotel in Almería in Spain. The hotel itself has been covered many times in H&E, so I won’t go beyond saying that the hotel is fine, the rooms are good, the facilities are great, and the food is excellent. There is also the benefit of backing on to one of the best naturist beaches in Spain. We were impressed by how busy the beach was and how many Spanish people use it - around 90% at an estimate. The climate in Almería is very pleasant and the only downside is the gusty wind which picks up in the afternoon, just in time to drift indoors for a drink and a spot of lunch.
But we were not supposed to be there. We had booked another new naturist holiday at a bijou hotel north of Alicante only to be told three weeks before departure that it had suddenly closed. Some rapid re-organisation by the travel agent sent us way down south. No explanation or warning was given by our original hotel, and I believe they had good reviews and plenty of bookings. Which made me wonder why Vera Playa succeeds - and it was certainly busy during our stay - when many other naturist accommodation ventures fail?
Observing the guests at Vera Playa, they divided into three main groups: a contingent of single males, a large section of mature couples and, significantly, a lot of Spanish families. It was clear from those we spoke to that many guests had been coming to the hotel for years. The hotel itself could be mistaken for any four-star hotel on any of the Costas except that all the holidaymakers were naked during the day. They liked what they were getting, so why are there not other hotels offering the same all over the Med? Why don’t others try to attract these naturists?
There are four reasons, I suggest.
Firstly, naturists tend to be a little conservative. They like to go where they know they are safe and there are no surprises. I know people who have gone back to the same place for their holiday not just for years but for decades.
Secondly, a lot of naturists tend to be careful with their money. Many will opt for camping or cheap apartments near a beach if they go away at all. Then, like the Spanish, they can park up, walk on, strip off and sit down.
Thirdly, many naturists are worried about swingers. How do you know if a new hotel does not have some other more dubious purpose?
And finally, many British families just will not book a ‘naturist’ holiday even if they might want to - the risks of the kids spilling the beans when they get back to school and causing ‘embarrassment’ are just too high.
I can only think of two other large naturist hotels in the Mediterranean. One is in Cap d’Agde and is therefore a special case, as that resort is just a bit different. The other is Vritomartis in Crete, which is in a very isolated spot and so keeps all its clients on site. Others have come and gone, as have several B&Bs and villas with accommodation or apartment complexes.
A few thrive and do so because their operators know the importance of cashflow management and targeted marketing. Thus Vera Playa will take the single men and Spanish families that others won’t. It can offer package deals and entertainment, maid service and bar tabs, just like many other non-naturist venues.
I have never worked in the travel business, and comments from those who have would be appreciated. But I do know a bit about marketing, and my top tip would be: know your clients. Customer relationship management is key, as customers rarely tell you why they no longer buy from you, but if they are happy they will come back. You can’t do everything, but you can provide a niche service to people who will enjoy it and they will pay you. Do not assume that because you like or dislike something, others feel the same. Have you ever stayed somewhere and felt under pressure to join in with things you don’t really care for? Or that your needs are ignored once you have checked in? It’s a fine line, but an important one.
There is a popular TV programme called Four in a Bed in which B&B owners judge each others’ accommodation. The fun comes when they view the comments made by their guests. Basil Fawlty lives on in the minds of these people as they express astonishment at the criticism or smugly ignore it. Maybe too many would-be naturist hoteliers have found out too late that you ignore feedback at your peril. Or that the effort needed to keep their place on the map was more than was expected.
The potential for naturist holidays is substantial. However, the variety of expectation within what is a niche market is considerable. As a result, many would-be naturist venues don’t survive for long.
What I noticed at Vera Playa as a resort was that it is unique in the range of naturist vacations it offers. To replicate that elsewhere might be difficult. And naturists would need to be tempted away from their familiar haunts. But it works there, so why not elsewhere?