I have just caught up with the first episode of The Hotel Inspector, Series 9. Before it was transmitted (5th July 2012), naturist forums were buzzing with mild excitement about this show mainly because the red tops wrote in large banner-type headlines that its presenter, Alex Polizzi, was going nude for the show. If naturists, and non-naturists, watched in expectation of seeing a member of the Forte family – the aristocracy of the hotel world – naked then they would be disappointed. As she admits in a self-penned article for The Daily Telegraph promoting the new series, her ‘naked’ appearances were down to some clever camera angles.
Like any review, this is just one person’s opinion and as I’ve never sampled the delights The Clover – as I will call it – has to offer, it is hard for me to judge. Yet, I cannot help thinking that the advice Polizzi gave was good advice, born from her own and her family’s long experience in the hotel trade and should not be ignored lightly. Her judgement was confirmed by the changes she made to a garden that was little more than a large lawn, into an asset that the guests could use and enjoy in more ways than just laying down to soak up the sun.
Polizzi’s main concern was the strict nude all areas policy. Tim Higgs, the proprietor and naturist for 30-years, believes that this is what his guests demanded, somewhere they can be naked from entry to exit. Only, his guests are far and few between. At the beginning of the programme, Higgs showed the camera his bookings for the week ahead; there wasn’t any. The advice that Higgs received was to widen his target audience by relaxing his insistence that guests are naked during their stay, and potentially attract new comers to the naked lifestyle by allowing them to be dressed in the dining and living rooms. This is not radical thinking, as it is common for guests to be dressed while eating at European naturist resorts.
We know, from leaked details of an unpublished survey by British Naturism earlier this year that there remains approximately 2 million people in the UK who enjoy the naked lifestyle, mostly it would seem while on holiday abroad. For them to sample the lifestyle in this country there must be some form of ‘halfway house’ where they can stay without making an overt commitment. The Clover then, seems to be ideally placed to entice these “newbies” as Polizzi called them, if Higgs followed her advice.
Although the programme at first put Higgs’ objection down to pig-headedness, it later transpired to be more practical. A simple door separated the living room area of the hotel, where Polizzi suggested guests should be clothed from the spa area, where they could be naked; where then could the guests dress and undress? What was really needed here was a compromise, why not have the dressed areas clothes optional? The debate about when and where to allow people the option of being nude or wearing clothes has been blowing hot and cold for sometime in naturist circles, without a conclusive answer. Stéphane Deschênes, the owner of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park in Canada (www.bareoaks.ca) and host of The Naturist Living Show (www.naturistliving.bareoaks.ca), has argued that allowing the option of wearing clothes in clubs such as his would undermine the ambiance he is trying to create, one where social nudity prevails. Letting guests wear clothes for reasons other than for comfort in cold or wet weather could lead to a situation where none of them are naked at any point during their stay, as shown by what has happened, is happening, to Cap d’Agde. In that case, why promote yourself as a naturist venue?
The argument is a strong one and for establishments that are a mixture of club and resort, like Bare Oaks, I can see the point. The Clover, however, isn’t a club but a hotel and it needs people to occupy its rooms. For a naturist to argue against social nudity may seem odd, but in these circumstances I believe a softening of the policy is justified if the hotel is to survive. The figures do not lie; the UK naked-tourist market is just not big enough to sustain a hotel of the kind Higgs has created, even if it only has seven rooms. Higgs admitted that in creating the hotel, his heart ruled the head a little bit. Yet, if he had given more thought to where his guests are most likely to originate from before he embarked on the substantial changes to a large residential house were made, the alterations would have taken it into account. The reception could be strictly clothed, the dining and living rooms could be clothes optional, with the rest of the hotel – the larger part incidentally – strictly clothes free. It isn’t a matter of all nude, dressed or clothes optional, but what is most appropriate in any given circumstance.
Another part of the hotel operation that rankled ever so slightly with Polizzi was Higgs’ version of fine dining. As Polizzi admitted, it was good tasty food but it all come out of a packet and the kitchen resounded to the ping of a microwave rather then hiss of a gas ring. Having spent, by his own calculation, the better part of £1 million to create his hotel, why Higgs hadn’t engaged a part-time chef to create the evening meals from scratch is a question I waited in vain to be asked. At least that would be more in keeping with the niche hotel that Higgs was trying to create, with rooms costing between £70 and £140 per night.
What we must recognise, however, is that Higgs and others like him are pioneers. Nude tourism barely exists in this country. Yet there is a nascent industry developing, mostly B&Bs, as evidenced by the website Naturist Accommodation UK (http://naco.org.uk), and little is done to encourage further development, increasing the number and broadening the range of accommodation offered. In an article for the travel section of the South African-based Independent Online, Journalist Cynthia Johnston was able to quote the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) as stating that US nude tourism is worth around $440 million annually and that it had risen by 10 per cent over the last decade. Can anyone tell me what the British nude tourist industry is worth? I fear not, as this data is not collected.
I know it is a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine, but I cannot shake the gut instinct that nude tourism has a place in UK naturism too, providing an extra revenue stream for clubs. The history of UK naturism differs markedly from that in the US, of course, where the profit motive has been used to increase the range of facilities provided. In the UK, almost all of the clubs have developed to satisfy the needs of its members and tourism has played little or no part in its development. It may be decades away, but like any new industry, UK nude tourism must start somewhere. Some data about what already exists would be helpful, a quality assurance scheme, similar to that already offered by the British Tourist Board for B&Bs, would be even better, as it would confirm and drive up standards. Yet, the two organisations for which this role would be a natural home are silent on the matter.
In creating The Clover Spa and Hotel, Tim Higgs has placed his family’s life’s savings at risk and it would be a pity if this brave adventurer were to go under. Maybe Higgs needs to listen to the voice of experience in Alex Polizzi, but UK naturism should definitely give him and others, more support.
[CORRECTION: I have been told by an impeccable source the BN survey referred to above showed that potentially there are 4 million naturists in the UK, not 2 million as I wrote. Surely, with a potential market this size for niche hoteliers, B&Bs and clubs with holiday accommodation it only needs the right kind of support, to get established. RWB 21/08/12]
A footnote on the “did she or didn’t she” argument about Alex Polizzi’s “naked” appearance in the show. The programme’s narrative suggested that she did sample the hotel naked, but it wasn’t filmed. It is just a shame that high profile personalities are so reluctant to admit even a brief dalliance with naturism.