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Beginning in March 2020, yoga and wellness retreats became less available, while resorts across the world closed and global travel ground to a standstill.
According to a recent study by retreat registration and payment platform WeTravel, half of the retreat leaders cancelled half or all of their scheduled retreats, training, and other destination-based offerings for the remainder of the year.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic. When compared to many other travel operators, wellness travel providers have high hopes about retreat travel's progress.
In dealing with the current realities, retreat leaders have been more resilient and innovative, such as quickly moving to online programming to stay connected to their communities. Their survey responses also show that they are more positive about the timing and strength of the industry's rebound.
So, what does this mean for the industry's rebound and the long-term future of retreat travel?
While virtual retreats are mostly the only option in many areas where people are mandated to stay at home in lockdown, many industry insiders believe they can outlast the current COVID19 pandemic.
They provide a low-stakes option for new retreat leaders to break into the industry. They represent a means for newer and veteran players alike to support communities that are still in lockdown while carrying logistical and financial costs.
They stand to provide relief for retreat participants from months of sheltering in the same place. Furthermore, for those with long-term health, mobility, financial, or circumstantial travel bans, they may be the first feasible route for participating in a retreat.
Even if online creativity doesn't have the same feel as "being there," innovative technology can greatly boost the virtual experience. With carefully selected audio and visual material, retreat leaders can arouse the senses and invoke the sights and sounds of nature. They might also choose to provide suggestions for in-home rituals based on taste, smell, and touch (e.g., recipes, essential oils, and self-massage).
According to a survey done by WeTravel, the majority of participants believe that business will pick up before the end of the year. On the demand side, masses of people are in desperate need of time and space to decompress, detoxify, and step back from the pressures and strain of professional and domestic responsibilities. Wellness Retreats are an ideal space for this work and healing.
Local retreats timed for the early stages of COVID recovery are a viable option for many organizers. Retreat leaders may find very suitable venues close to home so the destination is often secondary or supplementary to thoughtful retreat organising that promotes mental, physical, and spiritual.
Customers might be more likely to be able to use personal transportation rather than public transportation in these situations. Close-to-home retreats inviting to a wider audience the logistical and financial considerations.
Local retreats generally include both urban and suburban, and more remote destinations. In the coming months, the latter, which offers a bigger degree of physical distancing as well as the opportunity for people to reconnect with nature, are likely to go well.
As retreat leaders devise post-COVID retreat plans, they will undoubtedly pay more attention to the contractual obligations of their partners, including the retreat centres and venues, logistics managers, transportation providers, and insurance companies, to name a few.
More extensive research into recent or upcoming facility refurbishments, hygiene policies, and foodservice methods are likely to be included when choosing a retreat venue (e.g., less reliance on buffet service). Single rooms and/or the availability of outdoor recreation and practice spaces may be preferred for guests.
COVID-19 has irrevocably changed the retreat insurance industry and the travel insurance industry in general. Experts predict growth in demand for "cancel for any reason" policies, which have always been among the more expensive travel insurance options and are expected to become even more expensive in the future. Retreat leaders and participants are encouraged to shop around for insurance, read the fine print, and purchase accordingly.
Many wellness professionals have paused to reflect on the relationship of our own physical well-being and the well-being of the natural and commercial systems that support us as travellers in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic.
As a result, retreat groups are more careful to consider the ecological footprint of their travel plans. They are likely to be more mindful of sustainability considerations and the possibility of over-tourism.
In an ideal situation, visitors will consciously support sustainable business models that play an active role in safeguarding local foodways and ecosystems, and will justly share the financial rewards of travel with local communities.
Sustainable travel that supports human well-being across the board, rather than only for those that have the means to visit destinations abroad in the hopes of enriching their personal well-being, responsible consideration of these factors.
It will be interesting to see how the wellness and yoga retreat business on Koh Phangan reacts to this new world, one or a few of the likely predictions above could come into action. Maybe we will get more local business, people coming from within the country or Asia rather than customers from further away such as Europe.