I have to admit, as an avid traveler and one of the first leaders out there to lead yoga retreats in the past 25 years, I too have felt a new responsibility in determining if retreats are in the near or distant future … or if at all? I personally believe the recursion of the situation will slowly make itself obvious, however, for those who need a retreat as much as the retreat leaders need to host one, here is the latest findings from our friends at WeTravel.com who have conducted a very “socially responsible” outlook on where the wellness retreat industry is heading.
Hosting retreats with a well-trusted and established company is your sure-fire ticket towards the travel industry’s recovery.
In April 2020, WeTravel surveyed its wellness clients to find out how they have been impacted by COVID-19 and gauge their outlook for the future.
The majority of the 132 questionnaires returned were completed by wellness entrepreneurs and small businesses offering domestic and international retreats, trainings, and similar offerings to small or large groups, or to individual participants.
Geographically, they are based primarily in North America (71%), with the balance distributed primarily among Europe (9%), South America (5%), and Asia (5%). The remaining 10% are based in other regions, including 6% who work remotely as digital nomads.
The respondents are overwhelmingly small businesses. Approximately 14% employ five or more people, while 19% employ three to five people. The remainder are sole or dual proprietors.
Nearly 50% of respondents have been operating for five years or more, which indicates that the pandemic has impacted established businesses as well as newer players in the industry.
Impact of COVID-19
Although some respondents report that COVID-19 started to affect business from early to mid-February, 68% indicate that early to mid-March was the major tipping point.
To date, 50% of respondents have canceled between half and all of their scheduled retreats, trainings, and similar destination-based offerings for the remainder of 2020. The reasons for the majority of these cancellations have been travel restrictions in the destination countries and/or participants’ home countries, or general fear of travel due to COVID-19.
“Relationships are extremely important to me and many of my clients have become like family. As an international retreat host for over 15 years, my business has been heavily impacted by the current pandemic. However, the safety and health of my clients is and always will be my top priority. When I made the decision to cancel and postpone an upcoming retreat to Greece, the pandemic had not reached the levels we are seeing today. Still, the majority of my attendees have been very understanding and appreciative.” -Adri Kyser, Inner Beauty Yoga
Translating this to revenue impact for 2020, 41% anticipate a decline of 50% or more when compared to 2019, including 19% that predict a decline of more than 75%.
However, based on the 25% who indicated that they were unsure of the impact of COVID-19 on revenue, there is still uncertainty in this respect.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a considerable amount of additional work for our business, whilst we have lost all income at this time. The additional work has included: negotiating with venues regarding revised cancellation policies and contracts; rescheduling multiple retreats and re-booking all participants to the new dates; communicating with customers about [all of the above]; applying for small business financial support; and adding new online offerings (classes, workshops, retreats).” -Sally Mitchell, Body Flows
“This has been an incredible test in spirit and fortitude. I have seen so many in our industry pivot so fast. The creativity and connection being created is inspirational.” -Marci Jory, Thrive Yoga OC
Most respondents are confident that business will pick up again before the end of the year. Around 16% of rescheduled offerings will fall between June and August 2020, while close to 50% will occur between September and December 2020.
For the most part, the rest plan to delay until 2021 and monitor the situation as they go.
Wellness retreat operators are being as flexible as possible on the matter of offering refunds for canceled bookings to their clients. In just over 50% of cases, they are offering full refunds (40%) or refunds minus a small administrative fee (11%). On the other hand, in just 23% of cases are they unwilling to refund, either at all (5%), until they have received refunds from vendors or partners (3%), or until further negotiation with their clients (15%).
“It’s important to be in touch with your clients and reassure them. Even if you don’t have all the answers it’s important to not be seen as hiding from problems and to be addressing people’s concerns as they come. It’s also important to me to not make a blanket policy and to handle each guest on a case by case basis. This is an unprecedented time and I think the most important thing I can do is communicate with my guests to instill confidence in them in the future.” -Natalie Magee, Yogi Magee Expeditions
To work around this, many are proactively offering credits to clients. This approach appears to be effective as the bulk of respondents (80%) haven’t reported receiving any chargebacks or disputes to date. However, an additional 13% are not yet certain if any have been lodged against them.
These businesses are doing what they can, given the situation, to maintain their client relationships and precious cash flow. Respondents indicate that the vast majority of their clients are reacting positively to their refund/change policy, being patient, and rescheduling. In just 11% of cases have they received negative responses or are unsure of their clients’ reaction (18%).
Overall Sentiment and Outlook
Assessing the respondents’ outlook for the second half of 2020, results show that 22% are optimistic and expecting a recovery within this timeframe, with an additional 17% stating their outlook as “fair.” Approximately 34% have a negative outlook, while 27% remain uncertain.
The outlook for next year is rosier. 20% believe the industry will recover in 6-9 months, with an additional 20% forecasting a recovery 9-12 months out. Nearly 26% project recovery will be slower, taking 12-18 months (14%) or 18+ months (11%). These sentiments are reflected in their reschedule dates and general outlook for the coming months.
“This has been an important moment for our organization to slow down, take time to review all of our offerings and look to the way our non-profit is run. We have focused on looking for new opportunities, the wisdom that can be gleaned, and how to remain sustainable for the future. The gifts so far have been the direct contact with all our clients and guests, getting to know them better and integrating their insights into our future planning.” – Hannah Ruth Dyson, Soul Seed Gathering
Retreat travel, and wellness tourism more broadly, is being hit hard by COVID-19, with major annual revenue declines (>25%) expected by 65% of respondents.
Although the majority are rescheduling trips for the beginning of 2021, this is likely at lowered capacity with the possibility of further rescheduling still in the cards.
Finally, given the range of answers received in response to client, vendor, and partner refunds, it’s clear that patience and empathy are needed while negotiating terms during these unprecedented times.
“I don’t think this is the end of the travel business, only the beginning of a new way of doing things. I am still figuring things out, but I am still hopeful that, like a slingshot, the more things retract, greater forward movement will follow.” -Joan Hyman, Joan Hyman Yoga
Check out the slides below from WeTravel’s Slideshare account for a sharable summary PDF of the survey results.