If naturist travel is a niche of the wider tourism industry, then naked retreats and workshops could be considered a niche of the naturist travel market. It’s perhaps a relatively small but certainly a growing one, especially as more people these days seem to be keen on actually doing something on their holidays rather than simply sitting by a pool or on the beach, not to mention finding new ways of coping with the increasing stresses of a hectic lifestyle.
It’s a win-win situation for venues, organisers and participants. Many naturist venues are finding that taking bookings from groups (or indeed organising specialist in-house events themselves) is an ideal way not only of filling vacancies, particularly off-season, but also of introducing some newcomers to the naturist way of life, and thus extending their future customer base. Organisers are always on the lookout for new ideas, destinations, venues and accommodation options. And if you’re going to take part in a fun/educational/life-enhancing experience, why not do it naked?
There are, literally, hundreds of different retreats and workshops out there to choose from, covering every topic and special interest you can possibly think of, and whilst the majority of them usually involve the participants keeping their clothes on, there are certain subjects that particularly lend themselves to naturism.
Photography and painting are obvious examples: artists have been depicting the nude form for centuries, and for both artists and models alike, a fully-naturist venue offers a much more relaxing and pleasant environment for being naked than a stark classroom or a draughty community centre. An art workshop in the sun moreover, in a destination that has a sensible attitude to public nudity, opens up the options for using more outdoor locations (such as beaches and the countryside) than might be possible on the home front.
Anything with a health/wellness slant is also perfectly suited to naturist venues. Fitness and exercise, detox, yoga, Pilates, massage, meditation, spiritual awareness, conscious communication, tantra - all are equally (if not more) enjoyable when practiced naked.
And there’s also no reason why activities that you would normally expect to take part in fully dressed - such as cooking, creative writing, language courses, walking or cycling to name just a few - can’t also be done totally or partly in the nude.
Having attended or helped publicise numerous retreats and workshops in the past, naked and otherwise, here are some of my thoughts on how to pitch for and host such events, how to organise and promote them, and - if you are a potential attendee - how to get the most out of the experience.
If your venue is geared up for it, taking group bookings for specialist events makes good business sense. If you only have a couple of bedrooms to offer, it’s not really practical; at the other end of the scale, if you are a large hotel, resort or campsite, it can be difficult to offer the exclusivity and intimacy that many event organisers will be looking for. But if you’re in the middle somewhere, the ‘fit’ is perfect. From the organisers’ point of view, many are looking to put together events for around 10-30 people, depending on the subject. Any less and it might not be economically viable, given the amount of time, effort and cost that goes into setting things up; any more, and (like classroom sizes in school) it’s hard to make the experience a hands-on one, with time to devote to the needs and requirements of all the attendees, or to achieve the desired level of bonding and camaraderie.
As a venue, you wouldn’t normally want to host groups in your peak season, but then again most organisers wouldn’t want to pay peak season rates anyway. Running events in the low or off-season therefore suits everybody: organisers and participants get a better deal, and you can fill beds that might not normally be occupied. Group bookings are usually made and confirmed well in advance, giving you valuable cash flow from early deposits and guaranteed income for the duration of the event, and with the majority of participants usually checking in and out at the same time, the hassle of changeover days is kept to a minimum.
If you haven’t as yet been approached by any potential event organisers, go out and find them. Search the internet for specialist groups and practitioners, and tell them about your venue. Find out events that are happening in other destinations and make a direct pitch from them to bring their next event to you. And failing that, find locally-based experts in a variety of disciplines, and set up an event yourself. Don’t ask? Don’t get.
Naturists will tell you that being naked with a group of like-minded people is not only liberating, but an incredible bonding exercise. So even if you or your participants are not necessarily naturists, or your event doesn’t seem to be an obvious one to hold at a naturist venue, why not consider it? Many venues are in fact ‘clothing optional,’ where nudity isn’t a strict requirement, and if you are running the event, and taking over a venue exclusively, the choice of dress code is yours in any case. You might be surprised however - especially if the event is taking place in the sunshine, in a secluded and private environment, and with sufficient downtime from the pre-set activities - how many participants might be tempted into losing any inhibitions they might have about social nudity. I have been on non-naturist retreats where, within 24 hours of arriving, making new friends, and relaxing into the atmosphere of a new shared experience, everybody has been naked by the pool in their free time.
As with any event, workshops and retreats need to be meticulously planned and organised, and there are some basic rules that apply. Research the market, especially your possible competitors. Give yourself plenty of time to bring everything together. Set yourself deadlines and budgets, and stick to them. Choose the right destination and venue. Devise a programme that is interesting, varied, and offers something different. Price it competitively. Collate a database of possible participants. And work out a detailed and effective marketing campaign to promote the event. Sounds simple? You’d be surprised how many people get it wrong.
If you’re attending a retreat or workshop, what should you expect? And how can you get the most out of the experience?
People go on these type of events for a variety of reasons: to learn new skills or practice existing ones; to meet new people; to escape the rat race for a while; to experience something different from the standard form of holiday. Some come alone, others as a couple, or with friends. There’s often a wide range of ages, personalities and backgrounds, and you need to go with as open a mind as possible. Leave your pre-conceptions at the door - along with your clothes if you’re going naked. For solo travellers, they are a good way of taking a holiday without feeling awkward or out of the loop, and as room-sharing is often encouraged, you don’t get hit with single-room supplements. Even if you are part of a couple and/or a family unit, they’re often a good way of giving yourself some space and ‘me’ time, and some group organisers encourage all participants to come alone, as this helps with the bonding of the unit, and discourages cliques.
If the location is right and the organiser has done their job, you should certainly come away from a retreat feeling relaxed, refreshed and invigorated, knowing more than you did when you arrived, and hopefully with some new friends and contacts. It’s rare that, within the space of a week or even two, you’ll have undergone a major life-changing experience, but you never know. You might decide that you want to be a teacher of the subject you have been studying rather than just a pupil. That you want to learn more, and decide to sign up for further workshops or study programmes nearer home. That you need to change your eating habits, exercise regime, lifestyle or daily routine. That you have met the person of your dreams (or decided to leave the one who is currently making your life a nightmare). Or that what you really want to do is run a venue of your own.
Most venue owners will tell you that it’s not easy, and can come with as many stresses and challenges as your current occupation. But if it’s something you can do in the sun, and with no clothes on most of the time, it certainly beats catching the 7.39 into the office every morning.
© PAUL ROUSE