A stripped-down business model


Ann Marie Russo is a home-based agent whose business is "about 99%" in the swingers-and-nudist niche. It happened by accident, she said.

She said she and her husband like to relax at nude beaches. After numerous conversations with fellow sunbathers, Russo -- who at the time was on staff with a brick-and-mortar agency -- realized there was a market for her among nudists who wanted assistance with booking holidays where they could shed their clothes when on a beach or maybe more often than that.

As that business grew, it morphed into a specialty that encompassed swingers because sometimes, though not always, the two go hand in hand, Russo said.

The business grew partly by word of mouth because Russo's first clients were comfortable with her, and they shared the information with friends.

"Clients have to feel comfortable talking to their agent about this kind of travel," she said. "It's very private, and people often won't go to their neighborhood travel agent for this."

Russo took her business home in 2000. Home is in Apopka, Fla., and she is now president of A&S Travel Center of Florida, working with A&S Travel Center, Wallingford, Conn., as her host and producing an estimated $400,000 in volume.

However, initially, her home-based operation was primarily focused on traveling disc jockeys. As air commissions dwindled to zero and service fees could not make up for the loss, that business also dwindled,  and Russo turned her attention to her other niche.

While word of mouth was very helpful, building that business was nevertheless a slog during the early days, she said.

"I'd go to Yahoo Groups and spend days posting special trips. We'd go to swingers clubs and hotel socials and give away Hedonism trips [with Hedonism sponsorship]. "It was exhausting in those first couple of years."

Now she has a good core of customers who live all over the U.S. with a few in Europe. Her main annual project is a swingers cruise group of about 500, for which she arranges lots of private parties and shore excursions.

The easier work, Russo said, is the bookings for individuals because, for nudists or swingers or both, there are only a few resorts and even fewer tour operators to choose from.

She knows the management at most or all of them, which helps in getting good prices or services.

As a result, she said, "I can make a $3,000 booking in a few seconds."

She books clients at nudist resorts in warm-weather states and in the Caribbean as well as at any of the several Caribbean resorts that have separate nudist beaches.

As to the question of whether staff at nudist resorts wear clothes, she said cocktail waitresses are topless.

Other staff wear clothes, but she said they don't have to.

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