Shai Long of Nude Centre looks at the opportunities - and challenges - facing the gay naturist travel market. Interview by Paul Rouse.
Some people are born to be naturists. In Shai Long’s case, he would probably argue the opposite.
“I always wanted to be naked from as far back as I can remember,” recalls Shai. “But growing up with a prudish English father and an American mother trapped in some of the more traditional mid-west American beliefs, it just wasn’t possible. I'm originally from England but moved back and forth between Kent and Minnesota with my parents. It wasn’t until I left home, went to college and started my working career, that I felt secure enough to ‘come out’ in two ways: as gay, and as a naturist.”
After graduating in interior design and fashion, and following what he describes as “too many cold winters,” Shai ventured first to San Francisco and added graphics and website design to his list of qualifications, as well as becoming a licensed real estate agent.
Now based in New York, he runs his own marketing, branding, design and event planning consultancy, as well as being one of the chief driving forces behind Nude Centre, a portal promoting naturist and gay travel, events and social gatherings.
“When I first moved to the city,” he explains, “I couldn’t find much in the way of gay social nudism that wasn’t simply a cover for sex parties, so I initially created Nude Events, which became a very successful group holding monthly naturist events in Manhattan. We regularly had between 30-60 men attending. Unable to afford crazy property prices to set up our own venue, we did however get a small grant and tried to work with other investors to open a permanent space but were constantly dismissed as being a ‘sexual’ group. That’s where the idea for Nude Centre came from, an online platform promoting all things nude. It’s largely although not exclusively aimed at the gay market, but it does give those targeting gay clientele - travel companies, venues, social groups, yoga, massage, and so on - a way of getting their message across without some of the stigmas associated with full-on ‘gay’ marketing.”
“Marketing to a specific niche is the best way to reach your target audience,” Shai believes. “The gay naturist market is bursting with people that really want somewhere to be both gay and naked. Tourism-wise there is so much money in this niche, but in general it’s a fairly under-served community seeking an outlet. The largest challenge is the way everyone else still looks at us. For the most part there is a world view - and even more so in the USA - that nudity equals sex. There is no separation of the two. I constantly have to explain and preach this principle that naturism per se isn’t sexual. But the taboo remains and breaking through that is difficult, even in the straight naturist community. A gay naked event is seen as a sex party. Fact.
“Nude Centre aims to work globally to help spread the word about nudism, although it is still a relatively new project. As such, I would say probably 80% of our readers/members are from the USA. The country has a very sheltered and closed culture, so for Americans seeing a naturist opportunity, even a rare nude beach, is something really amazing for them. It’s not so normal as it is in Europe or some other parts of the world. So Americans really appreciate the naturist opportunities that Nude Centre offers.”
Nude Centre is happy to work with all organisations involved in genuine nudism, especially in the LGBTQIA+ sector, and is expanding into business-to-business marketing by way of joint advertising and event promotion with other naturist concerns.
The website currently comprises three main sections:
Directory: an online marketplace of venues, operators and services which Shai refers to as “the Yellow Pages of nudism.”
Forum: an open discussion platform for nude/gay topics.
Events: a listing of worldwide nude/gay social events, parties, receptions, talks, workshops and holidays. In addition to those posted by readers/members, Nude Centre also organises several of its own. Future events include Bone Island Bare It All, a long weekend in Florida (scheduled for July 2021) when hundreds of gay naturists descend on Key West’s clothing-optional gay guesthouses and gay-friendly hotels, and Nude Gay Adventures Gay Week in the naturist-friendly resort of Zipolite in Mexico, taking place in February 2022.
“The unknown factor for all of us, of course, is Covid,” says Shai. “I believe this will put a damper on international travel, nude or not, for some time to come. The focus for us at the moment is therefore shifting to the domestic market, promoting local naked yoga classes and retreats for instance, rather than trips to nudist beaches in France. Having said that, we are seeing more openness and activity in regions such as Asia, specifically Thailand and Indonesia, as that part of the world realises the value of western nudist tourism revenue and is becoming more inclined to the idea that the naked human body is not something to be shunned or feared.”
Long term, Shai wants to continue expanding Nude Centre to enable more small naturist businesses to get noticed on a larger scale, offering further B2B marketing opportunities, and organising additional nude holidays and events in gay-friendly locations.
“Yes, it’s a niche,” concludes Shai, “but the market is growing. We’re happy to continue being a concierge for gay nudism. If there is a nude and/or gay event near you, we will help you find it.”