Tips on creating a global retreat business: Christina Thomas
Marketing & Business
“I reached out to Christina Thomas because I was impressed by her track record of running well-loved global retreats, especially in locations that aren’t on the map yet for many retreats-goers (like Havana, Cuba). She strikes me as a pioneer, and I love her insights into where things are headed and what’s required to succeed in this business.” ~ Terri, Retreat Guru staff member
What are a few lessons you have learned from operating your business for 10 years?
Over the years I’ve learned that trusting my gut is the most important thing. Luckily, the business lends itself to lots of self-work and reflection so while I’ve been learning to run a business well, I’ve also had the opportunity to tap into my intuition and learn to listen deeply to my instincts.
When I started my yoga retreat business it was a house I named Utopia on the beach road in Tulum. So I have a deep understanding of running and hosting a bed and breakfast. You can’t imagine how helpful it is when setting up retreats and accommodations for our yogi clients. Everyone benefits from that experience and my ability to make it the perfect retreat experience.
I’ve also learned that problem solving is the name of the game. I have never been one to take ‘no’ for an answer so when dealing with challenging locations where that’s typically the first response, I have to know how to finesse the situation to bring it around to the resolution that I’m after and it results in a win-win scenario.
How has your company evolved over the past 10 years?
What started as a simple yoga platform on the beach in Tulum back in 2010 turned into an 8-bedroom guesthouse nominated in the top three best retreat centers in Tulum in 2013. We enjoyed so many retreats and amazing yogis at Utopia Tulum for four years. The guests and repeat clients-turned friends made our business and helped spread the word about what we were doing on the shores of paradise. Low season in Tulum is Sept through November and we wanted to take advantage of the downtime and expand to other locations so we slowly started adding other destination retreats like Santorini and Morocco to our list of offerings.
For my 40th birthday, I took myself on a yoga retreat of my own (ok it was gifted to me and hosted by one of my best friends and yoga teachers at the time). We were in Nicaragua doing the work and I had written in my journal that I was ready to really launch Yoga Adventures Tulum into Yoga Adventures Worldwide. The call was there and I had been listening. On that retreat, I planned out the next year and retreats outside Tulum. Expanding to places like Cuba, Portugal, Iceland, Holbox (again…we called that hotspot before Tulum back in 2008 but the world wasn’t ready yet!), and of course Greece and Morocco too. I got back to Tulum, bought an ad on the beach road and made it ‘official’ by changing our company name and starting to market the expansion.
Utopia Tulum was taken away by a corrupt Mexican government in June 2016 along with 16 other beachfront properties. It was time for me to walk my talk and non-attachment was the only answer. I released Utopia and headed to Europe for the summer to regroup. Upon my return, I found the government had torn down the house and left only sand in its place. My glimmering hope of getting the property back and starting anew had been literally torn down. Moving along then. I began to realize that while it was financially more lucrative to have my own property, it was also considerably more responsibility and stress. I found a villa in Tulum that I could rent out for only the dates of our retreats like I had been doing in other locations and found that this was actually a great solution to the situation. And so we’ve been doing this ever since. Freeing us up for other evolutions and growing our staff. What started out as me doing literally everything to grow the Yoga & Adventures Worldwide brand is now shared amongst my amazing assistant, Sofi and a few other awesome ladies running retreats around the world with us, Carolina in Cuba, Dani in Barcelona and Louisa in Australia. I’m currently looking for a social media intern as well to keep us up to date with all things social.
This year we launch our Yoga+ programs. We call it the ‘elevation of the yoga retreat’. Now we do Yoga+Art retreats in Cuba, Morocco, and coming soon Istanbul with some amazing partner teachers.
How do you see the retreat business, in general, changing or growing?
What I have been noticing over the years is that a lot more people are choosing yoga retreats as their vacation other than just hardcore yogis. I see everything from yoga beginners to folks in their 70’s joining us to take their practice to a new level. It’s not for just one kind of person or body type and I’m so happy to see friends, families, couples, and solo travelers choosing a yoga retreat over say a regular beach vacation. There is so much more on offer than just relaxing in the sunshine, everything is taken care of and flexibility is incorporated into the schedule. The bonus is that one can enjoy an amazing vacation full of pampering and self-care!
How do you choose your retreat locations and/or teachers?
Well, I don’t typically toot my own horn, but I really have a sixth sense about what’s new and next. I lived on the south side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn from 1998 until 2004 on South 4th street between Bedford and Driggs at the height of its evolution into the coolest neighborhood in the world (I’ve actually heard this!). I was the only white girl walking past Metropolitan Avenue down to the Dominican neighborhood to my loft. Now it makes sense why I felt so comfortable with the music, the food, the vibe…I didn’t know that I would spend the next decade immersed in Latino culture at the time. When the fake hipsters and the leg warmers started to creep their way down Bedford, I immediately looked for the next hot spot…trying to avoid the crowds of wannabes.
I found myself back in Manhattan in a sweet pad in the heart of grungy Chinatown on Catherine Street between Henry and East Broadway in 2004 when the Lower East Side was picking up and creeping into the area at the edges. The only hip thing within walking distance was Les Enfantes and Winnie’s, a destination karaoke bar for most that we frequented all too often. Towards the end of my tenure in Chinatown, celebs trying to escape from the scene were also following suit and moving to this part of town. I saw Phillip Seymour Hoffman several times on the train and on the streets in my ‘hood. Both of us giving a nod to the other whitey on the street like we both knew we had found a gem.
What brought me to Tulum was a combination of tiring of the rat race of city life and being completely disgusted with the level of food and drink culture that had sprung up in the city like Jack’s beanstalk. Cocktails starting at $14usd and burgers with foie gras were the beginnings of my falling out of love with New York. I had always been a huge food and drink lover. Simple ingredients, flavor combos, and perfect pairings had always been what I sought out and found readily, especially in NYC but this level of popularity was more than I could handle. One night I decided that I needed some space from the city and all that it represented. I had asked for a leave of absence and went with a girlfriend to Tulum for some fresh air and a chance to clear my head.
Upon arrival, I immediately felt the vortex that is Tulum. I was drawn to the gorgeous beaches, the incredible, simple and delicious food, the people were kind and it was so laid back that I really had to focus on had panic attacks at times when trying to unplugging from my city pace. It was paradise in every sense of the word. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the city but I didn’t know how to leave ‘all that’ behind.
The designer in me is looking for one of the beautiful old mansions to renovate and restore. The traveler in me is thirsty for another unique adventure in a place like no other in the world. And the mother in me is looking for a safe place to raise her son without the bombardment of technology and consumerism. Havana is the perfect place for all this, but now to figure out how. I’ve never been one to take no for an answer, the universe is aligning to make things happen for me. I feel it in my bones and know that very soon we will be painting, creating and planning a new Utopia, Havana edition. It’s thrilling!
As far as my teachers go, they are either clients who have come through Yoga & Adventures Worldwide at some point on their own retreat to rest and reset and we have become friends, or I’ve heard about them through clients and friends. I only work with teachers that I really connect with and feel good in my body after a class with them. My requirements besides amazing yoga classes are that they must be laid back, easy to work with, easy and fun to travel with, and flexible as all kinds of things can arise on a yoga retreat and we are a team at the end of the day taking care of our guests.
Why do you think the yoga retreat industry is so popular?
Yoga is a lifestyle and I think when people travel they want to keep up with their practice on the road. When they see an offer for a yoga retreat that includes an amazing experience on top of a great set of classes, it’s a bonus. The good thing about the industry these days is that there seems to be something for whatever you’re looking for. There are digital detoxes, beach and mountains getaways, silent, foodie, and writing, creative and even city retreats so really whatever the budget and desire it’s on offer, which is amazing though our course our retreats are the best out there for bang for your buck AND an incredible adventure into a culture as well!
Creator & Founder of Yoga & Adventures Worldwide