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NaturistBnB

Targeting the independent naturist travel market

There is no doubt that, in recent years, websites such as booking.com, TripAdvisor and Airbnb have played a major part in the revolution in the holiday market, to the detriment of high street travel agents and package tour operators. In tandem with this, technology-savvy travellers have also become far more independent, with many keen not only to source their own options and tailor their vacations to their specific requirements, but also veer away from larger hotels and resorts.

For the naturist traveller, especially if they looking to book private accommodation such as villas, guest houses or bed & breakfasts, the disadvantage of such websites is that, despite offering a wide variety of accommodation, it is virtually impossible to find out whether the places in question are naturist-friendly. Descriptions such as ‘private’ and ‘secluded’ are about as good as it gets, and with no ‘naturist’ category within the listings, and no search facilities offering that option, naturists have a tough task whittling down the number of properties from those that might be suitable to those where they can guarantee they will be able to get an all-over tan.

As with any niche market however, there will always be niches within niches, and one company making significant inroads into this sector is NaturistBnB, launched in early 2018 by Finnish couple Petri and Minna Karjalainen to promote privately-owned naturist properties - primarily B&Bs, villas, apartments and studios, with the occasional guest house or small resort thrown in for good measure. The website now has over 3,500 registered naturist users and lists almost 500 properties: 300 in Europe, over 80 in the Americas, and the balance in Australasia and the naturist-friendly countries of Africa and Asia.   

Keen naturists themselves, setting up the operation seemed a logical career choice for Petri and Minna, with their respective backgrounds in IT and travel/logistics. Given the similarities of their website to Airbnb, it probably comes as no surprise that the couple had previously used it, both as consumers and as property owners. “The Airbnb model is a good one for the wider travel industry,” acknowledges Petri, “but the options for naturist travellers are limited. Similarly, when renting out our property, we found it restrictive: we had to stay fully clothed at home if our guests were textiles. Our experiences convinced us there was a gap in the market for a naturist version.”

As with Airbnb, owners signing up to NaturistBnB list their properties themselves, free of charge. “Our main criteria,” says Petri, “are that the venues are legitimate and that visitors are able to be naked for the duration of their stay. We encourage owners to upload a copy of their passport as proof of identity and verify their ownership of the property. It would be impossible for us to personally inspect every property, but we believe that the users are the final critics. If a place doesn’t look attractive or the host’s ID doesn’t seem satisfactory, people won’t book, and the owner will eventually de-list it.”

In promoting NaturistBnB, the couple have had mixed results with social media. “We have been kicked out from Facebook twice,” says Petri. “We’ve tried Pinterest but it doesn’t seem to really work for us at the moment, so currently we are concentrating on Twitter, and relying on organic growth from word-of-mouth and repeat bookings rather than advertising. The reaction from the wider media has been good, with mostly positive coverage, and we created something of a ‘media storm’ in our first year when our story attracted the attention of CNN, and was then subsequently syndicated or picked up by a large number of media outlets around the world.”

Lobby

The general feedback from the naturist industry has also been encouraging, with several established naturist resorts and venues listing on the website. Perhaps the only negative has been the occasional complaint from the Politically Correct lobby that some of the listings are described as ’gay only,’ which is considered to be against EU regulations. It’s another case of the nanny state at work, where venues aren’t allowed to describe themselves as they see fit, and where they make it plain which market they are interested in. Surely it’s only offensive/illegal if you say you don’t want gay clients?

On the subject of the ageing naturist demographic, NaturistBnB thinks that whilst this might apply to the clientele of some traditional naturist resorts, their website statistics show the opposite: namely that their largest user group is in the 35-44 category, followed closely by those aged 25-34. “Based on this,” maintains Petri, “we certainly believe there is a future generation of naturists out there, with changes in attitudes and tastes being reflected in a search for more independent, individual naturist-related travel experiences.”

NaturistBnB is still in its early days, and the owners realise it is a work in progress. “We need to develop further with regard to search features,” admits Petri. “Last year we had to switch from Google location services after they increased their prices by a ridiculous amount. We couldn’t bear the costs and moved to an open street map-based service. We still haven’t got it working properly as the platform does not yet provide all the features we would need, and we have received some negative user feedback on this.

“Nevertheless, a lot of people do use the service and there are bookings coming in constantly, so technical challenges don’t seem to be a deal breaker for many. We do need to increase the revenue however to be able to add more features. So far, we have been funding the project on our own, but to get to the next level we are looking for partners to boost growth.

“We have also noticed some property owners are diverting bookings away from the website to avoid our 10% commission fee, which means lost revenue for us. We have contacted them and asked them to refrain, and some that have refused have been unlisted. This is something we might need to address with a technical solution. We’re looking into it!”


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