The practice of yoga has become much more than a trendy form of exercise—or at least it has in Ottawa, according to Think Travel Ltd. founder Rachel Neild. For nearly a decade, Neild has melded her skills with the desire of local instructors to create “yoga retreats.” Here, Neild discusses the niche market in which she’s found great success.
Advantage: First off, tell me a little about opening your own travel agency after 11 years of working through the ranks of another one.
Rachel Neild: When I hit my 30s, I had a good idea of how it worked to manage/run an agency; however, I think my biggest fear was that my clientele wouldn’t want to come with me [from the other agency]. My self-confidence was lacking, and I thought they’d want to stay with an established agency. However, they did—every single one of them! Now I have more than 500 clients. It’s amazing how if you network yourself properly and keep your clientele happy, they are so loyal and pass along many referrals and recommendations here in Ottawa.
What brings people to your agency in an era where many try to be their own travel agent?
Many people who do that “once-in-a-lifetime trip,” or who take a holiday with a complex itinerary, simply prefer to have it handled professionally. Plus, it is definitely a no-margin-for-error kind of event you are planning, so it just makes sense to get expert guidance and direction.
On the contrary, people who need to know, at the end of the day, that they got the best price possible and are willing to spend hours of their own research and have the resources are definitely more likely to book on their own, and all the power to them.
But there are enough people out there whose time is at a premium, who feel there is value in the service, and who prefer the security blanket of booking through a travel consultant. It is worth being taken care of.
Let’s talk about your yoga retreats. How did those become a focal point for your agency?
I personally started practicing yoga for my overall well-being. Being at the yoga studios and meeting the students and instructors, I learned some instructors have been doing yoga retreats—taking a small group of students (no more than 15) and picking a fun, exotic location to do yoga. So I thought, how appropriate to arrange all the travel around it, and participated in a couple retreats myself. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy something you love with like-minded people. My first year, I got my first group on my own, and then, by word of mouth, it spread.
What differentiates yoga retreats from other types of retreats?
Instead of staying at a mainstream commercial resort, which may be all-inclusive with 500-plus people, we’re handpicking spots. So there is a considerable amount of research required to find the perfect locales. The students usually have two yoga sessions per day, then have their own leisure- and downtime throughout the day, so you can go to the beach or participate in an excursion such as a waterfall hike, visit a local community, or just totally relax. A big part of it is the amazing food, unique experiences, and people you meet. You end up taking away wonderful memories and anticipate your next journey.
How have the retreats evolved since you started booking them nine years ago?
Initially, I was not looking at the specialized, boutique resorts; we were sending them to the very commercial, all-inclusive resorts in Cuba or Mexico. With the hotel, we would arrange a schedule and area for them to practice their yoga.
Now I work with a few more remote hotels and destinations for yoga retreats, and try to give them repeat business; I like the service, the organic environment, and what they stand for. It’s a different experience from the mainstream resort.
What have you learned about yourself since starting your business?
When I first went off on my own, it wasn’t because I was in the mind-set of an entrepreneurial businesswoman, per se—it was more so because I had a really great client base and a good understanding of the market and the industry. I preferred a more personal approach to servicing my clients, and I longed for independence.
Since then, I have become much more confident, business savvy, and more knowledgeable about world, airline, and travel economics. It’s expanded my horizons overall, and I have learned about natural and man-made occurrences that affect the industry, such as hurricanes, volcanoes, civil unrest, airline bankruptcies—just a wealth of education!