Running Yoga Retreats to Ireland Combines Wellness and Adventure
Once a niche market, wellness has gone mainstream, permeating our lives in more and more ways: yoga, healthy eating, personal care and beauty, nutrition and weight-loss, meditation, spa retreats, and Fitbits. For budding entrepreneurs, this market offers endless possibilities, which anyone can tap into.
“One day I was visiting my mother in Ireland and went walking on Blackwater Beach in County Wexford,” recalls Caroline Holmes, from Ontario, Canada. “It was beyond beautiful. The breeze, the sound of the waves crashing. I realized that I wanted to take other people here, so they too can experience the beauty of Ireland and relax like I do every time I visit.”
Combining her love for yoga and Ireland into a winning business model, in 2016, at age 55, Caroline created Yoga Retreats Ireland, bringing yoga enthusiasts like herself to the Emerald Isle for week-long retreats.
Caroline’s story began at a yoga lesson at a local studio, where she first got hooked on the wellness practice. “I became a yoga teacher when I was 50, and I continue to learn every day. I love the peace it brings me and the discipline of it,” she says.
She eventually opened her own studio and her retreats followed from that. “The joke about me in town is I either make you a yoga teacher or take you to Ireland.”
Her first retreat to Ireland was with 21 women—mostly her yoga students and their friends—on a six-day trip. It was a huge success.
Apart from practicing yoga and meditations, Caroline makes sure that her guests get a feel for the country. Days are filled with hikes, sailing on lakes, and walks on the beach. “We visit a new place every day, go to a local pub, and listen to a live traditional music session. I give them a taste of as much of Ireland and its history as I can.”
She pays close attention to her guests’ wishes, asking them what they want to see and do. “If they say they want to walk on the Cliffs of Moher or the Wild Atlantic Way, see Avoca Mills, or visit the Guinness Storehouse, I do my best to include that in their retreat. A lady once wanted to go to a British store on Grafton Street in Dublin to buy a particular type of cookie, so we did.”
Caroline says that having been born in Ireland gives her an edge. “My ladies feel I’ll take good care of them and organize everything in the best possible way.” Over the years, she built a strong team of collaborators. “People I work with in Ireland go above and beyond. One of my past guests wanted to take photos of the deer in Springfield Castle, in the magical 200-acre wooded estate where we stayed. The owner of the castle put her on the back of his truck, so she could take photos of the deer running behind them.”
Caroline does two retreats every year for groups of 15 to 28 women, priced at $1,995 to $3,395 per person. “My tours are aimed at women in their 50s who have finished their working life and want to take care of themselves,” she explains. Sometimes she collaborates with other yoga teachers and offers a free spot to anyone who sells five places for the retreat.
Caroline has many returning guests who have done the retreat three or four times. Most bookings come from referrals and word of mouth. “People refer me to their friends, family, and next door neighbor,” she says. “I had three ladies book a place on my retreat after they heard it being discussed at a hair salon.”
Recently, Caroline has started marketing her tours online, but she says it was a steep learning curve. “I was so bad at the start that I only had one sale coming in from social media in over a year. Now, I have hired a social media mentor, who is teaching me how to do it. She told me to put more of myself out there because I am selling me as a retreat leader. I am getting better at it.”
According to Caroline, yoga retreats can bring a good income. Her advice for aspiring retreat leaders is to run them in a country that they know well. “Your group will have expectations that you have to meet. You have to be able to call a doctor if something happens, for instance.” She chose Ireland as a destination for her trips not only because of the passion for it but also for practical reasons. “I know the country well and having relatives in Ireland provides me with a fall back and a support system. They’ll help me any way they can if needed. My mother, for instance, prays for no rain during retreats,” she laughs.
Before starting the yoga retreats, Caroline worked in the hospitality business for her entire career. “My years in hospitality gave me the skills to be able to read people and help meet their needs,” says she. “I never call people on my tours clients or customers. They are guests who turn into friends. They unpack, and, after that, I take care of them so they have no worries. You know when you were little and your grandmother took care of all your needs when you visited her? That’s the kind of feeling I want them to have.” Caroline is always the first one to get up in the morning to turn the kettle on. In the evening, she stays with her group by the fireplace, drinking Irish coffee, chatting, and laughing with everyone.
Such a meticulous personal approach makes Caroline’s retreats special but requires a lot of energy on her side. She admits putting many hours in preparing and running them. “Is it a lot of work? Of course. But I love it. I love people, I love their stories, I love seeing women coming out of their shell on my retreats and making friends.”
Written by Anna Lebedeva