How to host a retreat: a step-by-step guide on hosting impactful retreats

How to host a retreat: a step-by-step guide on hosting impactful retreats

by Sarah McCunnPublished on Apr 17, 2024
A woman sits high up on a hill overlooking a vista of town, ocean and mountains

Thinking of hosting a retreat in order to gain new skills and get to connect with your audience in new ways? As a retreat leader and facilitator of four years, I know running a retreat can be not only rewarding, but a life changing experience.

Creating a retreat also takes a lot of care, work and planning which can feel pretty daunting.

In this article we’ll take a look at what makes an impactful retreat, why they are more popular than ever, what you’ll gain by following your dream to plan one — and how to do it really well!

We’ve provided you with our ultimate retreat planning checklist and expert tips to make your retreat both memorable and transformative for you and your guests.

Woman walks alone on top of a hill

What is a retreat?

A retreat offers a unique opportunity for something that can feel almost impossible to find in our fast paced lives — to withdraw from everyday surroundings, tasks and responsibilities and take real time out in a tranquil location and group setting.

Curated around an area of focus — such as yoga, meditation, creative skills, nature connection and spiritual healing — retreats provide a perfect environment in which to move at a slower pace, focus on meaning and wave goodbye to daily distraction.

In addition to wellness retreats, many companies are now choosing to give their employees the chance to step away from their daily work routine and go on a corporate or company retreat for a few days to participate in team-building activities, training sessions, and connect with their colleagues to improve communication and collaboration.

A well planned and hosted retreat can be deeply impactful and transformative for both the participants and the hosts!

A silhouette of a woman sitting on a swing at sundown looking over the ocean

In today’s fast paced world, people’s desire to get away from it all is at an all time high. With workplace burnout on the rise, the continuing toll of post pandemic stress and endless streams of digital distraction at our fingertips keeping us from truly switching off — retreats offer a space for genuine recharge and the chance to reconnect with ourselves, other people and the natural world.

Retreat Guru — a world-leading retreat bookings marketplace — currently lists upward of 2000 retreats worldwide, ranging from budget friendly weekend resets, to week long women's singing retreats and 12-day plant medicine deep-dives in the jungles of Peru.

A screenshot of the Retreat Guru homepage showing various retreat options

The Global Wellness Institute’s research shows that the wellness industry has been surging post-pandemic, growing by 12% annually since 2020.

Experts predict the industry will expand by a massive 52% by 2027, and wellness tourism in particular accounts for a significant portion of the industry’s value.

The Global Wellness Institute’s graphic showing distribution of the money spent on wellness in 2022

Why host a retreat?

As a teacher, creator, or person with a knowledge and a passion for a spiritual, wellness or creative modality — hosting a retreat can be an incredibly rewarding endeavor — for both the guest and the hosts. Benefits of hosting a retreat include:

  1. Deepening relationships: Hosting a retreat enables you to build stronger connections with participants than is possible online and it provides a space for those with a deep interest in your work and offerings to get to know you and others with the same passions.
  2. Creating impact: Focusing on a specific cause or purpose can allow you to create a deeply positive impact in people's lives and contribute to meaningful, reciprocal relationships in the community where you are hosting the retreat if planned with consideration, e.g. arranging with local conservation guides and nature experts to give talks or tours.
A tree with wide reaching branches in a forest
  1. Generating income: Hosting retreats can be a good source of revenue if you plan, budget and price effectively.
  2. Building reputation: Hosting successful retreats can enhance your reputation within a community and is a wonderful way of establishing word of mouth praise when satisfied participants share their experiences online and with their friends.
  3. Enriching your knowledge & skills: Sharing knowledge in the context of a group setting rewards us with shared reflections and feedback, helping us deepen our own understanding and grasp of subject matter. What’s more, holding a group of people through a multi-day gathering requires many different talents and skills and makes you a more effective listener and communicator in all areas of your life.
New life growing on a tree
  1. Building connections: Retreats bring together participants from diverse backgrounds, offering opportunities for new friendships and connections to develop. They also offer the perfect chance to collaborate with people you respect whose passions and skill sets would complement and enrich your retreat.
  2. Personal growth: Organizing a retreat is usually a deeply enriching experience for the host, offering opportunities for leadership development and facilitation skill-building as well as the deepening of your capacity for empathy and care.

How to plan a retreat?

We get it, the idea of planning a retreat can feel pretty overwhelming! There are lots of things to consider during different stages of the process, from the inception of your idea through to the post retreat feedback gathering.

Two women planning together on a phone visiting a location

There are several stages to the planning process which we’ll walk through at a high level below:

Clear vision & purpose

A successful retreat hinges on a clear vision and purpose that offers a unique, impactful experience with well-defined objectives.

A truly memorable retreat is more than a series of activities in a nice location. No matter how idyllic the setting, if there is not a clear thread of purpose and intention running through the program, the impact will be lessened.

Get clear on what’s driving your desire to bring people together. What is it you want to share with them and what do you want them to take away from this time together?

A close up shot of a woman's green eye

Target audience

Is your talent creating spaces for people at the start of their journey with your area of expertise, or those with prior experience looking for more advanced or deeper immersions?

Do you have a target age range or gender grouping in mind or do you envisage a really diverse mix of people attending?

Budget & Costs

Ensure financial sustainability by creating transparent budgets that reflect the quality of the offerings, balancing between delivering an outstanding experience and achieving financial stability.

Woman sits at a desk with a calculator

Location & accommodation

Select a suitable location and accommodation based on the retreat's vision, target audience, theme, and necessary features like yoga spaces, eco-friendly properties, or specific amenities.

Nowadays many people choose to host their retreats abroad, so this is another consideration when picking a location.

A villa surrounded by cacti and trees

There are pros and cons to be weighed up related to travel costs and complexity for guests vs stunning properties at more affordable prices and more predictable weather!

Airbnb can be a fantastic place to find retreat properties around the globe. Always remember to be crystal clear on what facilities and equipment they have and whether they can provide you equipment such as yoga mats.

Food

Food is a very important part of any retreat, both in terms of keeping guests nourished with healthy food and as a time for people to be together, get to know each other and reflect on the experiences they are having.

Like many aspects of retreat planning, there is a broad spectrum in terms of budget and quality of food. For medium to high budget retreats, you'll want a chef on board who can prepare well presented and unique, healthy dishes.

A group of people sat around a table covered with salads and bread

For people setting out, employing a friend with great culinary skills or even catering themselves is a common choice.

Serving simple food such as soups, stews and salads can work really well. Ascertaining dietary requirements is a crucial step — there can be a broad range of needs such as vegan, gluten free, low carb and more.

Structure, schedule & activities

Take care to craft a well-balanced schedule that allows for a sense of flow, combining activities with ample relaxation time for meaningful connections and impactful moments.

To accommodate the fact that some people like a slower pace than others, you can make some activities optional to give those people a chance to rest or take time alone.

Facilitation team

The facilitation team is what really makes the retreat, and choosing a great team is vital to your success.

The ability to hold group dynamics through a multi day process takes a special kind of cooperation and awareness, so it’s essential you feel comfortable, connected and a sense of trust in the team.

A group of people put their hands together on top of each other in celebration

Ensure that your team consists of people who have run retreats or full day events before — especially if you have not. They will have invaluable advice on the schedule and how to keep a group engaged.

Promoting your retreat

Depending on your budget, you might consider taking on a professional to promote your retreat.

On a smaller budget, effective use of social media, collaborations, and attending in-person gatherings such as festivals and workshops which relate to the theme of your retreat can be excellent ways to find attendees.

A woman sitting on the floor with her laptop, smiling

Retreat booking process

Implement a straightforward booking process tailored to the retreat scale, using simple Google forms and spreadsheets for small retreats or consider a dedicated booking platform such as Retreat Guru or Bookinglayer once you are hosting larger retreats on a regular ongoing basis.

Checkout Page enables you to take registrations and payments for your retreat from a standalone page that can be launched from any social media account, website or newsletter.

Using a payment plan option, you can take a deposit from guests, followed by phased payments to make it as accessible as possible for your potential attendees!

Guest communication

Most retreat hosts will follow up an application with a call to talk with the potential guest and work out whether your retreat is a good fit for them and allow them to get to know you and your values and your vision for the retreat.

Two women on a zoom call whilst one takes notes

Keep guests who book informed and engaged through clear and timely communication. Provide logistical information such as transport options, payments, and what to pack — through to prompts for emotional and creative preparation such as pre-retreat journaling activities.

Fostering a sense of connection before the retreat starts by setting up a WhatsApp or Telegram group chat makes a big difference to the in-person gathering since people are not starting from scratch getting to know you and the other guests.

Workshop planning

Create detailed workshop plans with a good balance of content, experiential activities, and breakouts into small group and pair work.

A detailed plan will help you establish everything you need in terms of materials, playlists, equipment or anything else you need to make it a meaningful and rich experience.

A group of people in a workshop can be seen sitting on the floor

Team walkthrough of schedule

Days before the retreat, conduct a thorough team walkthrough of the retreat itinerary to ensure alignment, pacing, and uncover any overlooked details for a seamless event.

It’s a great idea to put yourself in the shoes of a guest and walk through with that in mind, as well as from the perspective of the team. Ensure the team has their own separate schedule with detailed notes about what’s needed for each section of the day.

On the retreat

During the retreat, focus on being present, coordinating team duties efficiently, and engaging with guests while maintaining a structured yet relaxed atmosphere.

Be present and not rushed — that’s key to a memorable, connected experience.

A group of candle lanterns in the dark

Post-retreat evaluation

Reflect with your team on how the retreat went, and gather feedback from participants by means of an evaluation form.

Celebrate successes and think about what could make things run more smoothly, or make workshops more enriching next time. It’s common to be exhausted when the retreat ends, but it can also be a good time to note details that you may forget when they are not fresh!

Lastly, ask happy guests if they’d be prepared to write a review to be published online, or even better, create a video testimonial for your retreat.

The ultimate retreat planning checklist

Embarking on retreat planning can seem overwhelming, with various important stages and details to consider. That's where our ultimate retreat planning checklist comes in!

We’ve created a comprehensive guide that will simplify the process for you and give you peace of mind that you have all the important aspects in sight.

Stay organized and ensure nothing essential slips through the cracks as you plan a memorable and successful retreat by using our retreat planning checklist template to guide you through each stage of the process.

Screenshot of the Ultimate Retreat Planning checklist

6 insider tips for planning an impactful retreat

Over my years of working at health, wellbeing, spiritual and nature based retreats I have noticed some simple yet powerful things that can take a retreat from good, to magical and even life changing.

I’m going to share some of the key lessons I have learned along the way that will help you become a successful retreat planner and host.

1. Welcome your guests warmly

I cannot stress enough how important it is to receive guests with enthusiasm and warmth when they arrive. Take the time to make them feel at home, see the layout of the property and know what’s coming on the schedule for that day.

Even some of the most well established retreats I have attended have not got this right — leading to guests arriving feeling confused and disorientated and less than welcomed.Remember — for many guests, this experience may be out of their usual comfort zone and they’ve put their money and their trust in you.

People embracing and greeting each other

Their ability to be vulnerable and engage deeply with the experience hinges on them feeling a sense of trust in you.

2. Leave breathing space in your schedule

A common mistake when you first set out with retreat planning is to over fill the schedule. It’s natural to want to offer people a rich experience — but there’s definitely truth to the phrase ‘less is more’!

A back-to-back schedule can leave people exhausted and disengaged. If workshops are well held and lead to deep engagement, people will appreciate quiet time to reflect, integrate and connect with others outside of them.

A woman walks through a field with her arms outstretched to the sides

There will always be differences in guest energy levels, so adding in some optional loosely structured time — such as group journaling with prompts or a guided walk — can help to keep those with more energy busy while others rest.

3. Group introduction call

When we introduced a group zoom call for all the retreat attendees about ten days out from the retreat, we saw a huge impact in how comfortable and happy guests seemed on arrival.

During this call everyone got to share their reasons for coming, what they were excited about and what they were nervous about. It meant that everyone felt like they knew each other before arrival which made things much more relaxed from the start!

A woman on a laptop waves hello to the person she is talking to


Starting the bonding process ahead of being together physically made a huge difference to the dynamics on arrival.

4. Subject expertise vs facilitation skills

Facilitating group activities and holding a flowing container for guests throughout the retreat is a skill all on its own. Having knowledge of a certain modality isn’t always enough to create a retreat that people will feel immersed in.

It’s a good idea to be realistic about your skills and experience and think about bringing someone experienced at facilitation on board to work alongside you or advise on the schedule and workshop structures.

5. Invite someone to work exchange

Running a retreat takes a lot of energy. It is not just the physical activity, but the emotional load as well. It can be tempting to keep the number of staff low in order to keep to a budget, but the impact of being depleted as a leader can be huge — the guests will really feel it in such an intimate setting.

Offering someone with the right skills the chance to come to retreat for free in exchange for doing some work to support the team and maybe teach a class is a great way to take some weight off your shoulders.

A woman does yoga on a mat outside by a lake

6. Lean into the power of the group

One of the greatest lessons of my years of supporting and leading retreats is that it’s the power of the group’s interconnection that brings the most magic and transformation.

Beneath all the structured moments on retreat, people will be learning from and sharing with each other — often in profound ways.

A good facilitator leans into this group power and creates time specifically for sharing as a group each day, as well as space for them to simply be together in a playful context such as crafting or a nature walk and picnic.

Black and white image of a group of people sat in a large circle outside

How to sell a retreat with Checkout Page

With its array of flexible and customizable payment options, including the ‘Payment plan’ option, Checkout Page is a great fit for those wanting to sell their retreats from an array of places, such as social media bios, newsletters, websites and posters and flyers.

House of Flow uses Checkout Page to sell their yoga and sound retreat by asking for a non-refundable deposit up front so that they can secure budget for the retreat, and an early-bird discount to entice people to pay in full sooner rather than later:

Screenshot of House of Flow's checkout page selling a yoga and sound retreat

If you'd like to get started right away and create your own retreat checkout page in minutes, using our template will make it a breeze.

Let’s take a look at how simple it is to create an customized no-code checkout page from scratch using our simple and intuitive page builder.

Step 1. Create your event checkout page

Select an 'Event' page, give your event a name, dates range, as well as add a location and the total capacity for your event.

Checkout Page form enabling you to choose event page, and add various fields of information.

Step 2. Choose your page type

Checkout Page allows you to select different page layouts, as well as either a hosted page option or embed code for a website:

Checkout Page form enabling you to select your page layout

Step 3. Add tickets for your event

Based on the total capacity of your event (15 in this case) add your ticket types making sure they do not exceed the capacity:

Checkout Page form enabling you to add ticket types for your event

Step 4. Add a description to your page

Add a description for your event that will grab peoples attention and give them a flavor of what to expect.

Checkout Page form enabling you to add a description for your retreat

Step 4. Add images to your page

Add an image that works for your branding and retreat theme. Checkout Page enables you to add multiple images:

Checkout Page form enabling you to add images to your page

Step 5. Adjust colors to suit your branding

Checkout Page allows you to customize various elements of your page, so that you can tailor it to your brand and set the right tone for your event!

Checkout Page form enabling you to choose colors to suit your branding

Step 6. Share your page

When you are ready to share your event with the world, you can select from a hosted payment link, embed code for your website and a QR code option too for posters, flyers and more.

Checkout Page popup enabling you to share your page with your potential guests

Step 7. Preview your page

Checkout Page shows a preview panel the whole way through the creation process. When are you happy with the feel and setup of your page, you are ready to share it with your audience!

Checkout Page preview function allowing you to see your creation!

Conclusion

Whilst there is no doubt that planning retreat is a process with many things to consider, both creative and logistical, it can be one of the most enriching ways to engage with your audience - human to human.

We’ve looked at what defines a retreat, why they are becoming more popular than ever, and what the benefits are of starting the rewarding project of creating a retreat!

We’ve covered the stages of planning from vision through to post retreat evaluation, and provided a detailed checklist template of all the important factors to bear in mind when planning your retreat.

We’ve revealed some insider tips and looked at how great Checkout Page is for selling your retreat and offering adaptable and affordable payment plans to potential guests!

If you’d like to learn more about setting up retreat payment plans with Checkout Page, read our article How to sell payment plans with Stripe.

We wish you a fruitful journey planning your own unique retreat!


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Sarah McCunn

Sarah McCunn

Sarah is a content writer with a passion for helping businesses grow. She enjoys creating content that helps businesses succeed and grow.


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