You attend fitness conferences. Perhaps you even speak at them. Maybe you teach at or attend wellness conferences hosted by the local hospital or a corporation in your region. Have you ever thought of being on the other side of the program?
Hosting fitness retreats can benefit both your business and your clients and customers. It gives you an opportunity to add a new profit center to your list of offerings, and it provides customers with an unforgettable experience. This article will explain everything you need in order to plan, market and facilitate a successful fitness retreat.
How to Get Started
Organizing a retreat is a big undertaking, so it’s imperative to know where to begin. “It is important to think carefully about what the intention of the retreat is, as this guides the decision-making process around a lot of the details,” explains Alexis M. Craig, owner of Transformative Fitness in San Francisco.
For Craig and her business partner, Tricia Fitzpatrick, the intention is to refresh the body and rejuvenate the spirit. She says, “Our retreats allow women to connect with other health-conscious women. The goals are to have fun, feel inspired to create healthier habits, connect with nature, learn to cook healthily, try new things and feel empowered.”
Daniel Remon, founder of Lifestyle Health Retreats, headquartered in Bangkok, says his organization’s destination retreats are for people who are focused on longevity and improved quality of life. The other major focus, Remon continues, is for attendees “to learn real strategies to overcome their biggest challenges for lifelong lifestyle change. And that’s what we deliver: results, strategies, lifestyle change and longevity.”
According to Remon, each of his retreats targets its own specific outcomes: “First and foremost, education is the key, as well as ensuring that all participants leave with a strategic blueprint and a plan of action to implement when they return home.”
“This blueprint,” Remon explains, “covers everything from debunking the myths and misconceptions around nutrition to weight management, fat loss, energy enhancement and overcoming excuses and challenges.” It also places “a strong focus on success coaching, developing a positive mindset, overcoming limiting beliefs and applying other coaching strategies to ensure the best possible outcome, both during and after the retreat.”
Remon’s retreats fall under the categories of Fitness/Adventure, Weight Loss and Yoga. However, he discloses, the company is “also moving into more of a clinical niche of diabetes management with genetic testing and consulting, as well as corporate retreats for companies, executives and management.”
Location, Location, Location
Once you know who your target audience is, you need to decide where you’ll hold your retreat. This will determine in large part what you’ll charge participants.
Remon holds his retreats at resorts around Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Bali/Lambok in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.
For Craig, it’s a little closer to home. “Our location in South Lake Tahoe is a spectacular waterfront home in the Tahoe Keys,” she explains. “We provide family-style lodging. The location features two wood-burning fireplaces in an open kitchen, a boat dock and amazing mountain views.” According to the website, a typical retreat has seven to 10 people.
Craig plans to expand the retreats to tropical destinations in the near future. In the meantime, the current location offers plenty. “The Tahoe Keys neighborhood provides access to private beaches, pools, hot tubs, tennis and basketball courts, and a marina within walking distance from the retreat house,” says Craig. “Lake Tahoe is a natural playground where the sun shines more than 300 days a year. It is an ideal location for healthy retreats: The water and air are pure and clean, and the altitude of 6,225 feet above sea level sends participants home feeling strong and breathing easily.”
Craig currently charges $400–$450 for a Friday-through-Sunday retreat. She explains: “The price includes all food and lodging, but it doesn’t include rental equipment, such as bikes, paddleboards or snowshoes. It also doesn’t include massages or other optional add-ons. Our profit margin is about $200 per person.”
Craig discloses that it took over a year to show a profit. “In fact,” she notes, “we charged only our costs on our very first retreat so that we could beta-test the program. We are lucky enough to have access to a low-cost venue to host our retreats—since the house is our childhood home. This has made it much easier to turn a profit. It also provides a turnkey opportunity for trainers to partner with us to host a successful and profitable retreat without all of the startup costs and trial and error. We are currently partnering with trainers so that they can bring their clients on our retreats, which creates a symbiotic relationship for all and a more rewarding experience for the participants.”
Remon’s fees are based on where the retreats are held. “The cost of each retreat depends mainly on the accommodations and standards of each property,” he says. “If we can negotiate good rates and a meal plan, we can keep each retreat to around $2,000–$2,500, with a 50% profit margin. The profits come when you can leverage with a good number of participants. We’ve certainly had some losses, and many retreats just broke even—which is a sacrifice you have to make when building a new business.”
Like Craig, Remon didn’t start with destination retreats. “We started with smaller weekend boot camp retreats and gradually increased the scope over a few years,” he recalls. “A business like this doesn’t happen overnight. You must build your reputation, network, strategic partners, websites and search engine optimization.”
You also don’t have to do it all alone. Both Craig and Remon partner with other fitness pros who can offer their expertise at the retreats. “We have a few head facilitators with experience and coaching background to assist with total lifestyle management, coaching and mindset enhancement,” explains Remon. “In addition, we have a medical advisory board to support the more clinically based retreats, including endocrinologists and medical physicians, fitness trainers, yoga instructors, nutritionists, naturopaths and wellness professionals. We round it out with coaches who have neurolinguistic programming backgrounds.”
“In terms of instruction, I am the primary instructor,” says Craig. “However, when we partner with other trainers, the guest trainers lead sections of the workouts. Also, when we do seasonal activities, we often let the vendor of the rental equipment act as an expert to teach us.”
Marketing Your Retreat
You’ve organized your retreat and are ready to implement it. How will you get participants to attend? For Craig, it began with grass-roots methods.
“In the beginning,” recalls Craig, “we primarily marketed to our friends and clients. When we sensed our growth potential, we branched out to the people who attend our fitness classes. We posted fliers at the studios where we teach and made announcements about our events at the end of our classes. We also began to market on social media by posting information and pictures on Facebook. Currently, we have begun to partner with other trainers so that they can bring their clients and students. This has been very effective and a lot more fun!”
Most of Remon’s marketing is Internet based. “Our marketing strategy is mainly online through SEO, strategic partners, networks and partner hotels. It’s an extension of our existing health and fitness business.”
The Bottom Line
“Every retreat is really different, depending on whom you choose to invite and what the intention behind the retreat is,” advises Craig. “We have an extensive questionnaire and application that we ask attendees to fill out beforehand, so that we can get to know people and be prepared.”
Craig decided to focus on women, because it creates a safer space for attendees. “They feel comfortable walking around in the house with no makeup, there is less of a draw to drink at dinner, and there is less drama around sexual tension.”
“It’s a delicate market,” adds Remon. “When the majority of the population doesn’t want to exercise, fitness alone is not a solution. Be prepared to be able to support the emotional, physical and mental needs of individuals. Ensure that you have a very strong team of professionals from all sectors of the health industry. Start small, choose your niche, and don’t try to be everything to everyone. You must overdeliver. That applies from the professionalism of coaches, trainers and facilitators to the customer service, education, quality of food, resorts you choose, communication and post-retreat support. Stay committed to your vision, which must go beyond financial success, and be prepared for the long run.”