Things to Consider When Choosing a Location for Your Next International Retreat.

So you are ready to host your first or next international retreat?  You are planning an unforgettable transformative retreat experience for your participants. However, your intentions and organization are only half of the equation as the venue needs to complete the other half.

You have spent countless hours organizing your yoga classes, securing payments from your participants, double-checked that everyone made their flights, only upon arrival to find there is no one waiting for you at the airport and you don’t have a local sim card or a number to call to see where the bus is. This would not be a good start to any retreat and something that can be avoided by researching and choosing the correct retreat center.

The retreat center is your partner in this venture and should complement your vision and expectations. One of the first steps for retreat leaders is to be clear about their retreat goals- is it strictly yoga to deepen participants’ practice or a cultural trip to experience some of the local cultures? Or both? Whichever it is, you want to make sure the venue fits with your values and retreat vision. At Istmo Yoga and Adventure Retreat in Panama, we have put together this list of questions and topics to help you better prepare to make sure the venue is the perfect fit for your retreat. 

1.. Do your research on the retreat center and the country and take notes on the following:

Day 1

  • Go through the retreat center’s website with a fine-tooth comb so you can get a good feel for the place and location and the people who run it.
  • Spend some time on the social media feeds of the center.  You can learn a lot about a place via their Instagram and Facebook
  • Check out third-party reviews of the center on sites like Trip Advisor or Google Reviews to see what others are saying about the center. If you see common concerns, write that in your notes
  • Do several internet searches on the country to find out more about the country- safety concerns, political stability, natural disasters, health concerns. Also to see if there are any “can’t miss” tourist attractions 
  • If you need to pay in the local currency, know the conversion rate and understand that foreign currencies fluctuate more than the US dollar, Euro, or Canadian dollar.  Also find out the best places to exchange money- airport, banks, or money exchange offices.

2. Pricing

  • After determining the length of your retreat- how much does the venue charge per person exactly including taxes, transportation, any other fees. Will you have to pay for your own stay, or is it included?
  • What is the payment plan to reserve rooms for your retreat? Does it require you to take too much of a risk, or is it something you can work with?
  • Will you need to spend an additional night in a City Hotel because the retreat center is too far away from the International Airport? If so, you need to consider the price of this hotel.
  • Will you be including any tours or activities in your pricing for your participants, that need to be added as well, or will the activities be optional add ons?
  • Finally, add what you plan to make per person.    Is the total something your participants will be willing to pay? Are tips included in the pricing? Tips are generally not required but customary in most countries- good to let your participants know this in advance.
  • Shop around. Don’t assume that a higher price tag equates to a better experience or service. An amazing beachfront view is nice but doesn’t make up for a moldy room, bad food, not-so-nice service, and a bunch of hidden fees.
  • Is there an agreement? To reserve the center or rooms, what is the payment schedule? If someone backs out, are the funds transferable, refundable, or non-refundable? Having everything in writing is a GOOD IDEA!

3. Interview with the owner or administrator via video chat

  • Have all of your questions ready from your previous research
  • Pros and Cons of retreats during different months of the year- high season/ low season rates, seasonal differences- winter/ summer, rainy season/ dry season. 
  • Arrival and Departure- How far exactly is the airport from the center?  Is traffic a problem at your arrival time? Remember, “approximately 2 ½ hours generally means 3 hours. Who will be meeting your group at the airport? Can the center provide a phone number in case the transportation is late? If you need to change airports from an international to a domestic airport how are those logistics handled?
  • Safety issues- Unfortunately petty theft and personal safety issues are often more common in developing nations than they are in North America and Europe. Do the rooms lock and/or have combination safes? Is it safe to walk around alone in the town, the trails, or the beach? Natural disasters- is the center located in an earthquake or hurricane area? 
  • Health Issues- What do you do if one of the participants has a medical issue? How far away is the closest medical facility? Do they have English-speaking staff or will someone who can translate be present? How would the person be transported to the medical facility? Can you drink the tap water? If not do participants need to buy bottled water or will filtered water be made available?
  • Location details- Is it a beach view or beachfront?  How far is the walk to the beach or trailhead? Mountain view with or without access to hiking trails?
  • Will there always be an English-speaking staff member available if needed?
  • Yoga Studio- If you are hosting a yoga or meditation retreat- How large is the studio? What props are available?  If open-air are bugs an issue?
  • Amenities in the area- Closest store in the area? Where to buy more toothpaste or toiletries? Pharmacies in the area?  Walking distance? Or taxi’s availability and price?  
  • Food- immensely important!  The quality of the food can affect for good or bad the overall retreat experience for participants. Make sure the center can accommodate any food restrictions or allergies- vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, allergies, etc. Check Trip advisor or other third-party review sites and see what others say about the food. Is the food locally sourced? Exactly which meals are included or not included? Dinner on the day of arrival, breakfast on the day of departure?
  • Technology permitting, it is nice to have a virtual tour of some or all of the property if possible. Instagram and promotional material are always shown in the best possible scenario, so if possible seeing things “live” is always a good idea.
  • Ask for references of former retreat leaders and contact them to get their feedback on the center
  • Take notes, summarize,  and email what was discussed with the owner/administrator to make sure you are on the same page. Details of conversations can often be forgotten or misinterpreted, so it is always a good idea to have things written at least in an email that can be referred back to

Best of luck in finding the perfect retreat venue for your next international retreat!

Istmo Yoga and Adventure Retreat in Panama  www.istmoretreat.com is proud to bring you the above information and even prouder to offer our retreat leaders all of the above. 

Not a retreat leader, but know a yoga teacher or coach who you wish would host retreats? Share this blog post with them!

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