How To Price a Retreat
Dear Westernised world. It has come to my attention that we are spoiled by low cost airlines, by package holidays, by the ability to enjoy cheap travel and experiences, because they are organised at scale.
The retreat industry is growing. Once again the economies of scale come into play. You can reduce costs by running multiple retreats at the same place and by doing the same thing each time. However the appeal of a retreat is that it’s the opportunity for a unique experience. Retreaters crave intimate group sizes where they can really get to know people, where they don’t feel like they are herded around like cattle. Retreats are desirably between 10 and 20 people, hosted in beautiful environments, with meaningful and restorative activities. Food and other wellness related products are expected to use fresh, natural, sustainably sourced ingredients.
However people still compare the price of a long weekend or week-long retreat with that of a holiday, and hands up, I am no exception. We undervalue the time and skill required to design engaging programs that will entertain us daily. We underestimate the special effort made to keep things personalised and homelike. We seem not to recognise the fact that small venues, unlike large chain hotels cost more. That fresh, local produce served generously from a small home kitchen, costs more. We hold the strong belief that we should strive for a more sustainable future and that wellness is a big part of this. We just aren’t prepared to pay for it.
OK rant over. The purpose of this article is to show how I have approached pricing an upcoming retreat, to give transparency to those that have never gone through this exercise. I want to make the experiences I run affordable however I also want to pay fairly those involved and of course, I’d like to make a living out of this. Hopefully sharing my process throws light on what a reasonably priced retreat will look like.
I’m planning a women’s empowerment retreat in Spring next year called Lady Days . The plan is to host a small group of up to twelve ladies in the grounds and accommodation of a 16th century French Chateau, and give them a week of games and workshops to dig deep into the way in which we look at ourselves, in order to build a fresh perspective.
There will be two hosts, myself and business partner Claudia, and we’re also trying to bring in a trained psychologist who will lead both group and one-on-one sessions. There will be picnics and pampering, self-portrait sessions and a movie night. We’re coming up with weird and wonderful ways to make this a magical experience, including a horse drawn cart ride around the rolling countryside. All of this will be elegantly woven seamlessly together so that participants need not do anything other than be present and engaged.
How much is that worth?
Let’s have a look.
|Horse & Cart||11||15||1||165|
|Staff Catering (Physcologist)||1||90||1||90|
|Art materials & pamper products||1||100||1||100|
Variable costs are those that change depending on how many people attend. For example each person needs to be fed and we pay per head for that so the more people, the more we pay. Variable costs can get complicated in some instances eg with MiPodere we hired a minibus. When we sold enough places to fill the minibus, the per head cost was as low as it could be, however if we sold just one more place we would need a larger vehicle and as such the per head / variable cost would rise. For the Lady Days retreat there is no need for us to leave the estate and as such we aren’t hiring a van and can avoid these complications.
Catering breaks down as €30 per head, per day. That’s €10 a meal which including the time for planning, grocery shopping, preparing, serving, clearing and the convenience of us as organisers or to the guests of not having to even think about food, is in my opinion good value.
Yoga and Horse & Cart rides are optional extras that are available from the venue, that we’ve chosen to add to enhance the experience. The yoga perhaps can be negotiated lower because whilst €12 per person isn’t expensive, €132 for a one hour class is very good money for the instructor, indeed.
Now to look at the fixed costs; those that stay the same regardless of how many tickets we sell.
The accommodation is a gite – a French cottage – and is rented as a whole rather than on a per room basis. It’s important to note that I have a strong relationship with the venue and as such they have given me mates rates. Accommodation is one of the main costs for retreat organisers so good relationships with venues is paramount.
We are covering the travel expenses and catering for ourselves (full week) and the psychologist (3 days). €150 per person is an estimate for travel considering return travel from Italy and the UK.
The psychologist has a fixed day rate and in order to keep costs low we’re restricting their participation to one “Deep Dive” day, rather than paying them to be there for the full week.
The budget for art materials & pamper products should cover the cost of extra things we need to buy for activities such as the self-portrait session and the girls night in (face masks, nail polish etc).
We will try to keep the marketing and contingency fees to a minimum, using our own networks to promote the event and being hyper organised to avoid any unseen costs. If we manage to spend less than the marketing and contingency budget then that comes out as profit and we can pay ourselves a little more, or keep the money in the business to pay for general expenses.
At full capacity the gite can take 16 people but that needs to include space for myself, Claudia and our psychologist, so we can only sell a maximum of 13 tickets if all beds are filled to capacity. There are 2 x 4 person dorms, plus 4 x private double beds. One double will be a staff bedroom and the others can be sold for either private or shared occupancy (friends or couples). I’ve used 11 people in the example with the optimistic view that all dorm beds will be filled, one double will have shared occupancy (2 people) and one single occupancy.
In all of this you’ll notice I haven’t paid myself or Claudia yet. Our wages come out of the profit… the difference between the cost of running the event and the amount we charge for tickets. I started working on Lady Days a few months ago, and whilst the to-do list fluctuates week on week, I estimate I’ll work around 60 full days on this, which is 480 hours. A UK minimum wage for over 25 year olds would pay me just shy of £4K. If we price high and sell out, we might reach that, but the reality is that our take home will be much lower.
My head is full of them!
- Can we reduce our fixed costs?
- Should we target a higher premium market?
- If we do will we meet expectations?
- Do we have the skills and the network to sell a premium experience?
- If I spend even more hours playing with my spreadsheets, will all the answers magically appear?
The answer is I’m still working it out. At some point – hopefully soon – I have to make a decision about ticket prices and then Claudia and I need to sell them. The margins are thin and the risks are high and the psychology around pricing is a total minefield and my head is close to exploding.
But I still want to do it. And that is why it’s all worth it.
I hope that by sharing very transparently the numbers for a small group retreat and very honestly my own inner turmoil, it sheds some light on why experiences like this cannot be compared to a week’s holiday and why retreat prices might seem expensive.
Would you do things differently? I’d love to hear from you if you have helpful suggestions!