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Fitness Resort Travel

Enjoy a low-cost vacation in an exotic setting.

Need a vacation? Worried about the expense? Do you know that several resorts will give you accommodations and food almost for free in return for teaching a couple of classes like yoga, Pilates, water fitness, Zumba® or boot camp each day of your trip? You can have a world-class vacation without paying the pricey rates of a high-class resort.

Teaching resort classes has been a rewarding and fun travel experience for me. Although I’ve been in the fitness industry more than 20 years, it’s been only in the last few years that I’ve tried this vacation approach. I used to think, “Who wants to work when you’re on vacation?” Well, I tried it and will continue to travel this way. What I’ve learned could ensure that your own experience is successful.

Benefits of Fitness Travel

While I was initially doubtful about traveling in exchange for teaching, I’m a convert. Here’s how you can benefit by traveling this way:

Enjoy free accommodations, food and drink. Of course, this perk is probably the biggest one. You and a guest stay for free! At family resorts, you can often bring two children for free as well. The resorts where I’ve stayed cost an average of $400+ per night per person, so teaching 2–3 classes per day in trade is a sweet gig. Many resorts also give you discounts on services like massage and spa treatments. And if you have more than the allotted number in your party, you can often get discounted rates for additional guests.

Meet people from all over the world. Teaching is an easy way to connect with cool people—including resort staff. I have made lifelong friends on some of these trips.

Stay committed to your workouts. Let’s face it: When you’re on vacation, it’s easy to get lazy—but you’ll be forced to stick to your workouts if you have to teach. And you will feel much better and enjoy your trip more because you are taking good care of yourself. As fitness pros, many of us would work out anyway, and we love to lead classes, so teaching doesn’t feel like work!

Enjoy beautiful locations. Companies that contract out fitness pros offer opportunities in exotic locations such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica, to name a few. The resorts I’ve stayed at have been world-class and have featured incredible amenities.

What to Expect: Logistics

If you’re sold on the idea of a fitness resort vacation, here’s how to begin:

Apply through different companies. You must complete an application and submit a copy of your certification to the travel company. I have submitted applications to several companies at once, to keep my options open. Staff at these businesses have been extremely professional and easy to work with.

These two contacts will get you started:

Give resorts what they want. It’s helpful if you teach a variety of classes, and this may be required. Each resort will list its specific needs, but most like to see a yoga/Pilates option, a water fitness option and a cardio/muscle class format. (More and more frequently, resorts are also requesting a dance class like Zumba.) Many places will allow you to tailor the class schedule to your specialties, as long as you offer enough diversity.

Expect to pay a registration fee. Many fitness resort travel companies charge a small registration fee of about $300–$400 per trip. Some also ask that you bring a gift worth about $150 to the resort hotel. (Learn more about this requirement on individual travel company websites.) Even with these costs, the vacations are still an incredible deal. Consider that you and a guest receive free accommodations, food and alcohol for the entire week at a world-class location.

You also need to pay your own airfare. Fortunately, for many of my trips, I’ve been able to use frequent-flier points, so my resort vacations have cost me almost nothing.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

You must do your best to make your classes a great fit for guests. Be prepared to do the following:

Promote your services. A resort is not going to see the value of continuing a guest instructor contract if no one attends the classes. It is expected—and extremely important—that you advertise your sessions by posting fliers throughout the resort in high-profile locations. You should also personally invite people to your classes. If you do a good job, your attendance numbers should rise throughout your week.

Build value for the staff. Think about how you can help resort staff as well as guests. For example, Miguel Valdez, entertainment manager at Hotel Dreams Los Cabos in San José del Cabo, Mexico, loves working with instructors from Fit Bodies Inc. because of the vitality they bring to the resort. “These energetic teachers get the guests involved in all the fitness classes, which the guests really enjoy,” he says. “Also, we are happy to work with fitness pros because they help our activity program and teach our entertainment staff different exercises and styles.”

Provide modifications. Fitness instructors understand the importance of being ready to modify movements when teaching a large group. This is even more important with resort guests because their fitness levels vary more than you’re used to. In any given class, you might have die-hard exercise junkies side by side with irregular exercisers or completely deconditioned people who have decided to use their vacations to launch their fitness program. Some guests might have multiple health issues. And participants will often speak different languages, making communication difficult. For all of these reasons, I typically teach my resort classes at a much gentler pace than I do my regular classes. I will tell the group, “Hey, you’re on vacation. I’m not going to try and kill you! You get extra points just for showing up when you’re on holiday!” If I can clearly see that a few guests are in great shape, I will give them a few kick-butt options just to challenge them a little more.

Offer outstanding customer service. Guests see you as a staff member, so be ready to answer questions and direct guests to an actual staff person who can help them. Learn people’s names and where they are from. Encourage guests, applaud them for working out on their vacation, foster friendships among participants and create a fun, inspiring environment. I will often finish my yoga sessions with a little foot massage to give everyone some extra TLC. Or I might close a workout with a group huddle and cheer, or have guests stop for a few moments to take in the beauty all around them.

Sometimes I’m teaching to two people and sometimes to 50. Regardless, my job is to make the experience awesome for each attendee. No one likes to teach to just two people, but I use the opportunity to go overboard with my customer service and attention. I know that those two guests will rave about their experience and more participants will come next time.

Bottom line. You must act professionally and take great care of people so you enhance their vacation experience.

The World Awaits

Fitness resort travel is an amazing industry perk—and one that I hope you can enjoy in 2013. “We provide fitness, yoga and Zumba instructors the opportunity to do what they love to do in a beautiful tropical setting,” says Darylyn Johnston, director of operations for NRG2GO in Bolton, Ontario. “It’s an extremely rewarding experience, and almost every instructor who travels with us once keeps coming back again and again.”

Suzelle Snowden, president and founder of Fit Bodies Inc. in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, encourages you to just try this type of travel once. “You will never travel any other way again,” she explains. “Even now, 20 years after I taught step the first time at a resort, I know that someone in my classes has been touched with wellness and fitness who might not ever have given it a try at home.”

Go with the flow

When you teach at a resort, you need to expect that things aren’t going to be perfect. You must be flexible enough to be on relaxed “vacation time,” which can be tough for type A personalities.

I often get to my teaching locations 10–15 minutes early and am waiting for staff to arrive, only to have them casually appear 5–15 minutes late to open a door for me or to get a stereo system ready. In most facilities, that wouldn’t go over well, but at these resorts, you need to accommodate late starts. I’ve begun a class without music or equipment and just laughed about it with participants, reminding them that “we’re on vacation time, so we gotta just relax and chill.”

Sometimes the stereo system doesn’t work properly, the venue is inadequate, there’s not enough equipment or the location is old and torn up with no equipment at all. Occasionally, staff members don’t know why you’re there or what you need. It can be easy to feel frustrated, but I’ve learned to use the opportunity to work on my patience and my ability to let the little things go!

Sherri McMillan, MS

Sherri McMillan, MSc, has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for 30 years, and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2010 canfitpro International Fitness Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 1998 canfitpro Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is an international fitness presenter, personal trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, including Go For Fit: The Winning Way to Fat Loss, Fit Over Forty, and The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing, and a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.

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