As the world begins to open up borders again, it’s exciting to see travelers back on the road experiencing amazing places with a lighter footprint and greater awareness. For retreat leaders, this may mean that you have opened up the calendar and are beginning to think about your next event.
At this time, it’s important to take stock of some important considerations for retreat planning going forward. As we know, COVID-19 has impacted how the world goes about travel. Every retreat leader, regardless of their level of experience, has to face a new set of circumstances around safely planning and hosting their event.
With the help of Ale Romei of Experience Retreats, we uncover nine points to consider for retreat planning post-COVID. Reflecting on these will help you determine whether you are ready and how to better safeguard yourself and your clients in terms of booking, cancellations, and venue selection.
Conversation With Alejandro About Key Considerations For Retreat Planning Post-COVID
1. Check In With Yourself and Your Clients. Ask, Are You Ready?
Jen: Depending on where in the world you are, everyone's facing a slightly different set of circumstances. However, could you provide some general guidance on how to think about if and when it’s time to plan a new retreat or move forward with rescheduling a postponed one?
Ale: First, something very important would be that you, as a retreat leader, feel comfortable in your skin. When you think about the prospect of starting to plan things, do you feel excited, do you feel ready?
Second, I would start communicating with your client base. See what their thoughts are, and how confident they are about going on retreat. You might set up polls within your social media network or client email list. Get in touch with people, connect with them, ask them questions about how they’re feeling.
We’re advising our clients to start looking locally rather than internationally first, picking a destination that feels easy to travel to and return home from.
2. Traveling Closer To Home Can Reduce Complexity and Lead To More Confident Clients
Jen: I know that you're based in the UK, and there’s a different degree of openness in Europe vs. North America vs. Asia and other geographies. Do you see things differently in these markets? Do you have any views on which geographies may be on a clearer path to permanent re-opening?
Ale: That is a very tricky one! As you know, things are changing on a daily and weekly basis, so there’s a huge amount of uncertainty.
I do have friends and clients who are already running retreats here in Europe, specifically in Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and France. We also have a client that will be running one next month in Tulum.
I think it all goes hand in hand with the preparedness of the retreat venue, confidence of the retreat leader, and trust the participants have in their hosts. At the moment, sticking closer to home reduces a lot of the complexity and uncertainty involved.
3. Keep Up To Date With The Evolving Situation
Jen: Yes! If you’re interested in monitoring the situation in the coming weeks, two great resources are this map from Kayak.com with real-time updates on which countries are open to international travel as well as this one from the CDC, which shows COVID-related travel risk by country.
4. Revise Your Pricing, Insurance, T&Cs, and Cancellation Policies To Reflect The Times
Jen: If we look into the future, what sorts of changes do you think that retreat leaders need to consider in terms of their pricing, terms & conditions, and cancellation policies?
Ale: In terms of pricing, it’s essential to keep in mind the financial hardships that so many people are going through. I would suggest doing something affordable and accessible, and that reinforces the idea of going local.
Terms and conditions are more important than ever. Compulsory insurance, representations about any underlying conditions, and required COVID testing are definitely things to consider folding into your updated policies.
With regard to cancellations, this is something to have very clear with your retreat venue; what is all of the fine print in their cancellation policy? Your cancellation policies with your participants should mirror these.
And always make sure you have a backup plan, ideally ahead of time, in terms of rescheduling if your venue or guests have to cancel.
5. Be Strategic In Pricing To Make Your Offering More Accessible
Jen: On the pricing front, I’d add that you can be a bit strategic; regardless of the core price point, do what you can to help your offering be accessible to all.
Maybe offer a payment plan if you haven’t done this in the past, make cost-intensive activities optional add-ons, or run certain promotions that help on both sides (for example, a discount for signing up with a friend).
Talk directly with people who may have heightened cost sensitivity at the moment, and try to be creative about finding ways to meet them where they are.
6. Negotiate Your Retreat Center Contracts For Better Flexibility
Jen: My next question is around retreat center contracts. What has changed about “standard” contracts in the last few months? Are certain points any more or less negotiable?
Ale: Venues are having to be more flexible than ever. They need to work alongside retreat leaders and not push them away with rigid contracts.
For retreat planning post-COVID, this means greater flexibility for rescheduling and, in some cases, in terms of their deposit policies. Some will be open to negotiating deposit amounts and terms, but others will be less so, especially if they need cash to cover operating expenses.
In general, though, deposit percentages are a bit lower than they have been historically. And, as a retreat leader, seek to push your balance of payment as close as possible to the date of the retreat when you’ll have much greater certainty about moving ahead.
7. Get Detailed Hygiene Plans From Venues and Vendors
Ale: Other things that are very important at the moment is to ask retreat centers about the hygiene measures they’re implementing for both their guests and their employees.
Another big one is: how are they coordinating food deliveries and managing catering?
Also, how have they changed their operations to provide more outdoor space and single room accommodations?
What do the dining areas look like, and how have they, for example, managed the transition from buffet service to plated service?
Jen: That actually begins to overlap with what I was going to ask about next, which is around any new questions you should be asking in your due diligence process with a retreat venue.
These are great recommendations around asking about venues’ supply chains, sanitation, and personal hygiene practices, operational changes, and generally how they're managing and communicating with both their employees and guests.
Ale and I have actually been working together to put together a checklist covering some of these COVID-related topics for retreat planning and due diligence, which readers can access here.
Ale: Also, I think another vital thing is for retreat leaders to keep in constant communication with their venues.
Ask them how things are going in their area, if there have been any changes in the local community or within the retreat center operation since you were in touch last.
It’s good information for your peace of mind, and it’s information that you can pass along to your group as well, showing that you’re being responsible and staying on top of things.
8. Communicate Expectations To The Group, Pre-Travel
Jen: Do you have any further thoughts on the retreat leader's role, specifically in mitigating risks? Any things you might do in terms of your planning process or communication with your group?
Ale: First, I’d recommend always sticking to what local authorities are suggesting.
From there, exercise thoughtful planning and common sense.
One idea, if you’re planning to offer some retreat goodies, is to include masks, alcohol dispensers, wipes, and those sorts of things.
Remind people about keeping as much personal distance as possible, and try to find spaces where you can congregate outdoors. The ideal scenario is to find a retreat center or other venue that allows plenty of time in nature.
Jen: Yes, and that can be such a beautiful compliment to us having been cooped up in our homes for so many months! I agree that communication is an especially important piece right now.
Pre-departure, retreat leaders can consider sharing a detailed packing list with any hygiene and sanitary items they’re not planning to provide, and a set of expectations for social distancing indoors and outdoors, when it's appropriate to keep a mask on vs. remove it, those sorts of things.
You can, of course, reinforce these things once you're together as a group, but it's worthwhile to set some ground rules ahead of time, too.
Ale: Absolutely. Plan to put in extra time planning and communicating your expectations in terms of protocol for when you’re traveling to and from the venue, having meals, meeting for workshops, participating in other activities, and enjoying free time individually.
Jen: That really speaks to your point about being careful in selecting your partner venue. If you have a venue that you trust and has put time into considering and implementing best practices, that goes a long way.
9. Safety Is A Team Effort
Jen: To me, it’s jointly the responsibility of the host venue, the retreat leader, and all participants to make sure each person is doing all they can to keep themselves and those around them safe.
Ale: Exactly. That’s one of the things that our business emphasizes: we try to find beautiful venues that meet high standards in terms of the services they provide.
We really dig into this due diligence, checking everything within the venue to make sure it suits the specific needs of a particular retreat group given the unique set of circumstances we find ourselves in.
We also keep in close communication with all our venues, advising them, giving them ideas for ways to possibly improve their operations.
In the end, the goal is to grant everyone involved greater peace of mind and make sure the retreats we support run as smoothly as possible.
Despite the complexities involved in retreat planning post-COVID, considering these points will help you to jump back in better prepared.
Thank you to Ale for sharing his expert insights with us.
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