What I Learned after I Failed my First Retreat

In a week’s time I am about to have my initial meeting with my team to host a weekend yoga retreat. This is not my first ‘rodeo’ so to speak. The last one crashed and burned magnanimously. That experience nearly had me give up on my dream. It wasn’t until after I processed the experience that I decided to write about it. As a way of not allowing my failure to take control of my professional growth. This is my story.                

Spring of 2022, through my Facebook groups, I was offered a house that would make an excellent location to host a retreat. I took a look at the residence and it was perfect for hosting a reduced group getaway with yoga and aerial yoga. It was exactly what I wanted–something to start small with. The shala was fitted for both activities in the heart of Toulouse, France. I chose the last week of August for my retreat. I acquired the reservation even if I only had four months to find guests. Within the next 20 weeks, I made one mistake after the other. While I had created courses and filled them within a two-week period, the retreat business was different and brutal. I did not fathom the number of logistics that needed to be made to create a successful yogic getaway. 

In the end, I had to pay the security deposit regardless of the outcome. I had zero guests. Many were interested but it didn’t amount to final transactions. This brings us here. Me. Writing an article of my cautionary tale in hopes that my failure may serve as a guide to other yoga teachers who may want to venture forth into the wellness tourism business.     

In this article, I will discuss the key mistakes I made entering into retreats, what I could have done better, and how you could prepare for a better one in the future.

Mistake #1 Time 

While it says on some platforms that four months is enough to get the minimum break-even number of students for a retreat, it was not the case for me. Apart from the time you need to market your project, you need to have timing. I didn’t have that last year. I thought 20 weeks would do, but every potential lead I had already planned out their vacations. I launched in May and they were booked in March. You need to launch the advertisement for your retreat before the general public decides on their summer destinations–which is about now. Post your retreat in January-February and have your retreat sometime in the 2nd-3rd week of July to the first week of August. Approximate 6-7 months prior to your retreat dates so that you can have time to market your retreat. If you are planning a teacher training, planning and marketing will most likely take longer.  For example, Briohny Smythe’s 300-Hour YTT for Thailand in August 2023 started her marketing campaign in September 2022.

The important part is that you show up for your business, ready to face each day as it comes. 

Mistake #2 Choosing the Location

France is absolutely beautiful but the house my clients were going to stay in was cute and quaint. When my husband and I were reviewing the trainwreck that was our venture, he pointed out that the house was a bit too cosy for eight people to live in. 3 bedrooms, two shared baths, etc. It would have worked if a close-knit group of friends decided to go on a yoga retreat experience. A 3-bedroom house for eight people was not the best choice to host a retreat. It didn’t matter how affordable our price points were. In a post pandemic world, we need space and ventilation. Many establishments except for large companies close to have their vacations as well. So many local places may be closed. The city of choice may not be at a point in the year when it’s thriving. So for retreat dates in august, it may be best to go rural as well.     

Mistake #3 The Platform to Market your Retreat

When it comes to your marketing and payment platform, there are a myriad of options to choose from these days. My mistake was second-guessing myself for too long when I had to choose where I wanted to launch my retreat campaign. I should have just gone with the platform that had the widest social reach as soon as possible instead of deciding which one fits my business the best. Sometimes it’s not about compatibility. In my experience, bookyogaretreats.com has the widest client base. It can be a bit saturated because the majority of wellness tourism venues are posted there. Nevertheless, with a bit of perusing the site, you will get a good idea of how to present and price your campaign. Also, posting your retreat takes a very long time. Namely, because of all the sections in the post you have to cover, such as accommodation, food, extra activities, itinerary, covid protocols, and airport transfers; things that are probably out of our “zone of genius”. So, having a solid game plan that covers every question your clients may have is your key to victory. 

text-What-I-Learned-after-I-Failed-my-First-RetreatMistake #4 Targeting your Ads. 

One of the biggest factors that wasted my four months of marketing was about targeting my audience. I didn’t specify the type of people I wanted for my retreat. I learned how to customize my adverts to target my demographic two months  before the retreat dates. By then, I was sure that the retreat was going to fail. You cannot just put an age range and be done with it when you post an advert. You need to give your social media channels parameters to work with so that they can present your retreat to accounts that will potentially be interested in your retreat. These days, Facebook and Instagram ask for very specific demographics in order for you to generate the most leads. As of now, Instagram even has a lead generator feature when you boost your ad posts. This allows your target audience to fill out a form so that you may send them details of your offering. 

Mistake #5 Not being ready for the deposit 

Any space you rent out will ask for a security deposit or downpayment. This is probably the biggest rookie oversight I made last year. I didn't see this coming until I reserved the available dates. In hindsight, the proprietor also didn’t talk to me about the security deposit, which represents the reservation of the residence in question; until we “locked” the week in. This meant that I had to pay a considerable amount of money regardless of the outcome. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have gone through the whole process in the first place. Keep this in mind before you start your new business venture. Have money you can afford to lose so that it doesn’t hurt so much if it happens. Lastly, the property is just as good as its proprietor. It doesn’t matter if your retreat location is in paradise itself. If the keeper is a snake, don't go there.

Let’s recap. There is no such thing as too advanced when it comes to launching your retreat campaign. You will always be in a time crunch. Launch your retreat ASAP. Preferably before people have made their vacation plans. Make sure your retreat establishment is spacious and picturesque for your guests to feel that the money they spent is worth it. Choose the platform with the widest social range to get the most out of your marketing. Customise your target audience so you can hone in on clients with the highest potential for transactions Last and most importantly, have disposable income for your security deposit or downpayment. This will determine if it is the right time for you to venture into retreats.

Blunders and Slip-ups are part of growth. Sometimes even more so than your achievements and success. The important part is that you show up for your business, ready to face each day as it comes. 


Jennifer Yusi
My name is Jennifer Yusi. Vinyasa/Aerial yoga instructor, writer for Momoyoga, founder of misfityoga.co. I believe in the fusion of yoga with different forms of movement. In my downtime, I like hiking, painting and karaoke.

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