Out of the many BN members I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my 20-plus years as a naturist, a decent percentage run or ran their own business.
I wonder how many of them would happily put their ‘textile’ business under the national spotlight on Primetime television, to have it praised or shredded by an ‘expert’? Not many, I’d wager.
Imagine the situation, then, for a naturist businessman. And I don’t just mean a businessman who’s a naturist; I mean a man who runs a naturist business – and a rather well-known one, at that.
Step forward, then, Tim Higgs, owner of Clover Hotel and Spa in Birmingham. Since it opened in October 2010, Clover has gained an increasing reputation in naturist circles and beyond; indeed, it was reviewed in glowing terms in BN 187 (spring 2011). But reputations count for nowt in the hotel business if the customers aren’t coming through the door and by late-2011, the guests weren’t arriving in good tnough numbers, costs were going up but income wasn’t going up.
Then, one day, an email arrived at Clover Spa. It was sent by a researcher from the Channel 5 television programme, ‘The Hotel Inspector’,’ hosted by Alex Polizzi. They were making plans for a new series and wanted to feature Clover; not just by making a one-hour film but also by paying for £8,000 worth of improvements, both in the hotel and in the garden.
Tim ignored the email. So the researcher made a telephone call.
“At first, I said ‘’no’’’ Tim told me as we sat sipping iced water in the lounge at Clover. ‘They rang back and so I spoke to a couple of marketing people I know who told me that I should do it.
“They said that even though I had no editorial control, the positives of the national publicity would far outweigh the negatives.”
They were right; nearly two million people tuned in when the programme went out at the beginning of July and in the following month, Tim’s income rose between 30 and 40 percent, taking in account the mean average of the last six months.
He took some flak on the BN members’ forum from people who questioned his ability as a hotelier (he’s been in the business for over 30 years and owns a textile venue just two doors away from Clover), as well as from those who felt he had been naive in getting involved with a production which, shall we say, appeared to exploit every schoolboy cliche in the world about naturism.
But as interest and bookings grow, not just from naturists but from those who have never previously enjoyed social nudity, Tim is adamant he did the right thing – and he wanted to set the record straight for readers of British Naturism.
“When I first opened Clover Spa, I didn’t allow enough time or money to market it to the right people, so when someone comes along and says ‘national TV’ you would be daft not to think about it,” he said.
“Having agreed to do it, and knowing that I would have no editorial control, I asked them to at least not undermine the brand and I don’t think they did. This is the only urban naturist facility of its kind in the country and if we can make it work on the back of this programme, it could be extremely successful.”
Once the deal was done, Tim had a film crew examining every inch of the hotel and grounds, filming for a total of ten days and eventually producing 45 hours of footage – of which slightly over 45 minutes was eventually used.
Inevitably, therefore, the final picture didn’t necessarily reflect what was on all those hours of film. It never does on television, something which British Naturism itself has previously fallen foul of. In this case, the final edit threw up a number of issues; film of Tim and Alex in the hot tub led some forum posters and TV reviewers to describe him as ‘creepy’ (which is absolutely not true!); the fact that Clover uses primarily microwaved meals was blown out of all proportion (a lot of hotels use what is known in the trade as ‘ping and ding’), while Alex never seemed to ‘get’ the idea of naturism – again, not at all true in real life.
Perhaps most importantly, most of the programme seemed to resolve around a somewhat fabricated argument over whether the lounge area should be ‘clothes-optional’
‘When I saw the final edit before the programme was broadcast, I admit that I went ‘aagh!’ Tim told me.
“When it actually went out, I was much more relaxed because I knew what was coming and that there would be criticism. It’s a good job I’ve got broad shoulders but you do have to take it on the chin. I knew it was going to be an entertainment show and that they had to generate some kind of tension to make the programme work.
“In reality, Alex was fantastic to work with. She did ‘get’ naturism straight away but they had to portray her as hard. In fact, she’s very knowledgeable and although she saw my weaknesses straight away, we
spoke on the phone after the show went out and she told me that I had a great niche business; ‘now get on with it!’ she said!’
One of the biggest areas of criticism on the BN forum surrounded the jokey narration, which seemed obsessed with having a laugh at Tim and his guests: “The only thing worse would have been for it to be narrated by that bloke off Come Dine With Me,’ said one poster.
Tim, however, is unperturbed. “I don’t have any gripes with the narrator, he was simply doing his job,” he said. “And it got us out to an audience we wouldn’t have expected to reach. A few days later, we were on Radio One in front of three million people from a much younger age group than your average naturist.’’
Some BN forum posters felt the programme’s emphasis on interior decoration and the production team’s
choice of journalists invited to ‘road-test’ the venue was strange, but there was clearly a plan in place. And there is no doubt that the end result, at least after the first month or so, has been the right one. As well as the startling rise in income, guests are starting to arrive from all over the country, repeat business and new business is good (both from naturists and ‘newbies’) and at the time of writing in early-August, Clover Spa and Hotel is No 1 out of 139 hotels in Birmingham on Tripadvisor. It also won a glowing report from www.quirkyaccom.com, a website specialising in reviews of niche hotels (check out the review at http://www.quirkyacc...cloverspa-hotel). The two female journalists featured in the documentary were from quirkyaccom.com.
“We’ve got to continue to build on this,” Tim told me. “We need to think about all sorts of forms of advertising, I need to get much more involved in the naturist social media and I also need to try to get the mainstream West Midlands media interested.
“All the written journalism about us since the show has been very good and I’m not media-shy any longer. But we’ve still got to work on things; staffing is an issue, but then it always is in the hotel business, while we do have to continue to get even more people through the door. The more guests we get, the more that ‘newbies’ will get the sense of naturism as a social experience – and, of course, the more profitable we’ll be.”
So would Tim do it again? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is an emphatic ‘No.’
‘I wouldn’t do it again without some form of editorial control because now, I feel we would have too much to lose if it went wrong,” he said.