"If the drug trade was to be made legal would I be trading drugs on my properties? No, I would not," says Na’ím Anís Paymán, who owns ten modern-day temperance hotels across the UK including one in Orkney.

A Cambridge-educated scientist, he is of the view that there isn't a safe level of alcohol and most people do not consume the tiny amounts that might be considered 'risk-free'.

"It's one of the biggest killers in society," he says. If I can run a business that doesn't contribute to that, that's a good thing.

"Just because selling alcohol is legal, it's not something I want to engage in."

Teetotal himself by choice, he claims most of the research asserting that alcohol has benefits for health is "funded by French wine companies."

"Even if they do say that, it's also within a very controlled level," he says. "When you look at the drinking culture we have, it's not a viable alternative."

The Herald: Na'ím Paymán and his wife Sara own ten alcohol-free hotels in the UKNa'ím Paymán and his wife Sara own ten alcohol-free hotels in the UK (Image: Na'ím Payam)

Opening alcohol-free hotels might be considered a risky strategy given the struggles the hospitality industry is facing but he says his policy has attracted few complaints.

The only place in the UK he faced a backlash was in Orkney, he says. He took over the Stromness Hotel two-and-a-half years ago, which had been closed for a while.

The Herald: The Stromness Hotel in Orkney is now alcohol-freeThe Stromness Hotel in Orkney is now alcohol-free (Image: Paymán Club)

Like many hoteliers he is experiencing staffing challenges and says, with a wry smile, that his policy has not helped in attracting local workers.

"All our hotels are non-alcohol hotels," he says. "Because the Flattie Bar was very famous, that's what made this one blow up as a problem.

"Whereas in other places, we've not really had anyone complain. 

"It was a pub that wasn't that well used by locals, otherwise it wouldn't have closed down," he said.

The Herald: Flattie Bar at the Stromness Hotel now serves only soft drinks Flattie Bar at the Stromness Hotel now serves only soft drinks (Image: Paymán Club)

 "But it was a pub that allowed everyone in, even people who had been banned from other pubs on the island.

"Obviously those people are not happy that it's not there and there are other people who were upset that we don't sell wine as part of the restaurant."

He notes the irony that the place where he has met most resistances was once a dry town.

Stromness is said to have had more than 80 places offering alcohol at one point, from taverns and alehouses to kitchens offering home brew.

However, in the late 19th century the influence of the American temperance movement reached the town, where there were temperance associations, the Good Templars, followed by the Oddfellows and the Rechabites. 

The Herald: Stromness was once a dry town Stromness was once a dry town (Image: Sarah Sutherland)

The movement voted the town 'dry' in 1920 and it remained that way until 1947.

When the Second World War ended, the pubs reopened, and in 1949 the Chamber of Commerce created Stromness Shopping Week; a carnival week to encourage trade in the town, which still survives.

"The whole town has been dry before, I'm not banning it in the whole town."

Originally from Germany, which has some of the most relaxed alcohol laws in the world, the hotelier grew up in Albania and came to the UK when he was 16 to do his A-levels.

He got into hospitality when he was studying at Cambridge, managing short-terms lets for owners, then leasing out flats and serviced apartments.


'Scotland recognises it has a problem with alcohol - we aren't there yet'

'I know my limits because I started drinking early'

'If my wife wasn't here I'd punch you': Has pressure to sell booze ruined live theatre?

"When Covid hit, I started buying hotels because prices had gone right down," says the businessman, who also owns a software company, which has developed tech for hospitality businesses.

The Stromness Hotel caught his eye because trade was buoyant in the Summer months.

A risk then perhaps to designate it alcohol-free but he wasn't tempted to change his policy.

He has another hotel in Castle Douglas, which is currently being used as a welcome hub for Ukranian refugees and a small guest house in Irvine with two in Wales and the rest in England.

He organised a meeting with locals before taking over a hotel in Kettering in North Hamptonshire and says women were more supportive of his policy.

"We've not had any backlash like we have had in Orkney," he said.

"We've got so many problems in our society and in a direct or in-direct manner, a lot of them link back to the over-consumption of alcohol.

"Yes,you can say it's just a glass of wine with your food but when you are not at your strongest point, it might slip into a couple more."

The majority of his patrons in Stromness are tourists. He said he hoped to keep the hotel open all year round, for the benefit of local families who might not want to go to a pub but he says staffing had made this difficult.

"Pubs aren't a place for families and it might not be a place for single women who don't want to be around drunk men," said the hotelier.

Ultimately he says he would would like to turn the hotel into more of a wellness experience, staff permitting.

"There are a lot of people who are wellness-minded on the island who are offering that service and [the hotel] could tie into that," he said.

He recalls a conversation he had with someone in Orkney who had questioned him about his policy.

"I said that if I could avoid one case of alcohol-fuelled violence then that was my mission.

"She had been very aggressive up until this point about my no-alcohol stance.

"Then she burst into tears and said she had suffered from domestic violence for ten or 20 years at the hands of an alcoholic. 

"Their knee-jerk reaction was 'why are you attacking us, why are you imposing your values on us?' Once she started to think about it, she realised it might not be a bad decision.

"We might not always be responsive to what people want - as is the case with alcohol - but we try to offer a good guest experience."