Transformational Vacations (AKA Retreats) is Big Business and Even a Bigger Opportunity for Our World

US$438 billion — that was the 2013 estimated market size of Wellness Tourism(1).

And it’s growing at an unprecedented rate of 9.1% per year — faster than the travel industry as a whole.

More and more people are choosing to go on vacations that elevate their body, mind & spirit, and they are willing to pay 130% more than regular tourists to get what they want(1).

Wellness Tourism is defined as “all travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing.” It is not medical tourism; it is an explosive new travel segment that resides at the powerful intersection of two of the world’s largest markets — the US$2-trillion wellness economy and the US$3.2-trillion global tourism industry (1).

While Europe and North America dominate this market for now, over 50 percent of the projected growth in wellness tourism through 2017 will come from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East/North Africa(1).

This rapidly-growing emerging segment presents both new opportunities and new challenges.

Some of the opportunities are obvious — with so much money changing hands and no dominant market leader, both big corporations, small businesses and young start-ups are racing to own a piece of the pie.

Retreat Network (www.RetreatNetwork.com) is one of these companies. A young start-up, less than one year old, it is already creating a noticeable impact on this segment by converging New-World vision & values with cutting-edge technology and business models.

The vision of Retreat Network is “a world at peace.” Not “world peace”, which implies the absence of war, but rather a world at peace, which can emerge only when we reach a critical mass of people who are at peace with themselves.

“People that go on retreats make better choices,” says Ilan Mandel, CEO & Co-founder of Retreat Network, “and we need more people, from all walks of life, that make better choices. I believe that regularly going on retreats is as essential to our personal and global wellbeing as going to the dentist, seeing a therapist, cleaning our house or performing regular maintenance to our car. and it’s not just for maintenance, the more important aspects of going on retreats are personal development and spiritual growth.”

Ilan, an ex-navy-officer-Silicon-Valley-high-tech professional, discovered the world of personal development and spiritual growth while recovering from a traumatic divorce that shattered his health, business and world view.

“Within two years, I met someone, got pregnant, got married and got divorced. I was devastated in every possible aspect, and it took me 6 years to recover. After two years of legal battles on money and custody, that chapter was closed and the long process of healing and recovery started.”

Ilan started taking Yoga classes at Yoga West in Los Angeles — the birthplace of Kundalini Yoga in the West. Through the combination of physical exercise, spiritual studies, breathwork, meditation and mantra-chanting, he cleansed his body & mind from depression, limiting beliefs, marijuana addiction and unhealthy eating habits. He went on multiple retreats and attended numerous transformational festivals, leading to a number of spiritual and shamanic experiences. Light started to shine in and he slowly began to experience Life in a different way.

“I was suddenly able to connect to people on a totally different level — my daughter, my friends, my parents & family, my clients — even my relationship with my ex-wife started to shift for the better. I realized I had been a prisoner in my own mind for so many years, and even though I had been very successful in many ways, I was never really happy.

Through this process, I was suddenly immersed in a world I never knew existed (other than in books & movies), and I was awe-inspired by the possibilities this New World presented. After experiencing first-hand what it did for me and all my relations, I started to contemplate other, bigger possibilities.

A dream was born, and then a vision — if we apply this knowledge and these tools on a larger scale, we can literally heal our world!

in 2011 I left everything behind and traveled the world in search of answers. On December 21, 2012 I found myself by the Mayan pyramid in Chichen-Itza, Mexico, participating in ceremonies and rituals by Mayan shamans and beautiful Goddesses, and by the time I got back to LA I was ready to act.”

In January 2013, Ilan founded Healers Worldwide (www.HealersWorldwide.com), a global network with a mission to connect & empower Healers from all over the world.

“We define Healers as ‘people who elevate the people, places and situations around them’, which means there are only two kinds of people in the world — people who are Healers, and people who haven’t yet realized they are Healers.”

The Healers Worldwide organization expanded from Los Angeles to other cities in California, and from there to other places in the world.

“At that point I realized it wasn’t enough to bring people together. I needed to support myself, my work and our network of Healers.” recalls Ilan. “I therefore decided to find ways to integrate these New World ideas with existing & proven business models.”

Ilan joined forced with his high-school buddy, Assaf Kostiner, and together they founded Retreat Network — “the booking.com of Wellness Tourism”. Assaf is also an ex-high-tech professional who fell in love with Yoga and became a Sivananda yoga teacher.

“Our goal is to reach mainstream audience and provide meaningful alternatives to vacations and other getaways now offered by the travel and hospitality industry.” says Assaf. “We aim to exponentially increase the number of people who consciously and intentionally seek transformational vacations that elevate their body, mind & spirit, while at the same time create channels through which money can flow to Healers and support their work.”

While the opportunities & benefits are huge, the challenges are equally substantial.

“We operate at the edges of the Wellness Tourism segment.” explains Ilan. “The programs & retreats presented on RetreatNetwork.com are not just about wellness — our focus is healing, personal development and spiritual growth. The transformational vacation packages offered on our site range from Yoga & Meditation retreats, to detox & cleansing, sacred sexuality, Yoga Teacher Training and Ayahuasca sacred journeys in the jungles of South America.”

The three biggest challenges we face are:

  1. The eco-system in which we operate is very young. Unlike the hotel industry, there are no standards — technical or otherwise — and no centralized database that empowers users to compare and choose their retreats like they choose a hotel room. We face the same challenge AirBnB faced some years ago, trying to standardize rooms in people’s homes in order to provide a smooth buying process and an excellent service for their customers. To address this challenge, we apply careful planning when developing cutting-edge technology and applying branding and online marketing strategies.
  2. Both retreat providers and retreat goers emphasize and require us to operate within a certain framework of values — authenticity, integrity, transparency, open communication and basic fairness. These values sometimes conflict with technology & marketing strategies used by for-profit businesses (especially revenue-driven big corporations), and we pay careful attention to the feedback we’re getting as we’re navigating the potentially stormy waters of our young eco-system — stretching the boundaries of what’s considered possible while earning and maintaining the trust of our community.
  3. The unique nature of each retreat should be matched with the personalized needs & desires of each customer. What can be intuitively felt & discussed in face-to-face conversations and word-of-mouth recommendations is quite challenging to achieve in a web-based interface. To address this challenge, we intend to develop a crowd-sourced Artificial Intuition algorithm that can recommend a specific retreat or program to a specific user by predicting its impact on the user’s wellbeing.”

To summarize — wellness, personal development and spiritual growth retreats are the Future. As life expectancy rises and more and more people consider their health, quality of life and quality of their relationships as most important, businesses like Retreat Network will become an essential service for people to find what they seek.

(1) Based on the 2013 Global Wellness Tourism Economy Report published by SRI International (http://www.globalwellnesssu mmit.com/images/stories/pdf/wellness_tourism_economy_exec_sum_final_10022013.pdf). The website Statista.com estimated this segment to be even bigger (http://www.statista.com/statistics/270720/market-size-of-the-wellness-industry-by-segment/)

About Retreat Network

Retreat Network is the “booking.com of Wellness Tourism”. It’s mission is to unlock previously unavailable inventory of hundreds of thousands of Wellness Tourism beds & vacation packages and become the #1 Wellness Tourism marketplace in the world. To list your retreats, or find the transformational vacation that is perfect for you, please visit www.RetreatNetwork.com.