Spiritual retreats have become all the rage in Dubai as the wellness travel industry continues to grow, particularly across developing markets. Tailored experiences may be the key to the growth of this niche market, as more mindful travelers are now seeking exclusivity and holistic healing methods.
We’ve all heard about detox retreats, or spiritual getaways.
Some people have called them a new age travel trend, but wellness tourism has been around for decades. Such getaways, in the last few years, have become increasingly popular in Dubai, particularly among professionals who belong to the upper middle class and are more health-conscious or educated.
“Dubai is becoming more spiritually diverse,” said 29-year-old Lady Serwaa Bonsu, who has worked as a receptionist at a Dubai-based holistic healing center for nearly two years.
“Many clients I meet are choosing to go to places like India and Japan for special four- to 10-day retreats because they are seeking spiritual solutions to their issues.”
Bonsu said she meets clients who are considering such retreats to gain insight on how to improve their health, marriages, or even their relationship with money.
Between 2015 and 2017, the annual growth rate of the $639 billion wellness travel market was 6.5 percent, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI). This is more than double the 3.2 percent growth rate for tourism overall.
The Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), along with other developing markets such as Latin America-Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, and Sub-Saharan Africa, all accounted for 57 percent of the increase in wellness trips since 2015.
The wellness tourism market is expected to reach $919 billion by 2022, the wellness institute predicts.
People who choose such niche getaways are often seeking safe havens where they can meet like-minded individuals, heal from traumatic experiences, or even gain self-confidence to apply in their everyday lives.
Silfath Pinto — who is based in Dubai — is a transformational coach and retreat leader. Many of her clients live in Dubai and travel for her getaways in other parts of the world, including Bali, Indonesia, or Greece.
“There is a lot going on in Dubai,” said Pinto, “and I think it’s because it can be such a transient place where there is so much movement. Local people are facing a lot of challenges and starting to wonder if there is another way and looking for help and resources to be able to change and improve.”
Pinto left her corporate banking job in 2009 to begin her life coaching career. That’s when she held her first retreat for clients in Dubai, which has a population of more than three million.
“My retreats are not so much focused on discovering the country, although it is part of the experience,” said 40-year-old Pinto. “The main thing about my retreat is a deep transformational journey. It is really about moving from a state of limitation to a state of expansion.”
Pinto facilitates about four retreats a year and packages range from $2,000 to $2,700 for week-long trips.
Pinto admitted that her retreats are not for everyone.
“I am not in the retreats where they do yoga in the morning, yoga in the evening, and then they do sightseeing; that’s not what I do at all,” she said with a laugh. “That’s why my retreats might not attract that many people, they attract people who are really ready for a deep transformational journey.”
From Dubai to Paris
Coming from a completely different part of the world, Leona Wallace, a 51-year-old survivor of domestic violence, is a Paris-based certified international life coach.
She worked part-time in 2010 as a life coach and full-time as a real estate agent in the province of British Columbia, Canada.
After attending a retreat in Nice, France, for her own personal development, Wallace decided to quit her job and became a full-time coach and retreat leader in 2011.
She has since led 27 retreats.
“Many of these men and women are already on a journey,” Wallace told Skift. “Some are feeling lost, some have relatable stories, are at a crossroads, and unsure of their next step.”
Wallace usually invites six to 12 clients on her trips, which are filled a month in advance.
Clients traveling with Wallace are invited to detoxify physically and mentally by participating in nutrition programs, breathing exercises, and one-on-one coaching sessions, she said.
She typically leads about three retreats a year, but is considering monthly retreats in 2020 due to high demand.
But her five-day retreats are anything but cheap.
Her packages cost about 2,200 euros ($2,467) per person and are held in partnership with luxury spas, chateaus, or with “conscious homeowners” that have expanded their houses into wellness centers.
While they’ve never met before, Pinto and Wallace have much in common.
For starters, they both said they feel called to hold their retreats at “energetically charged” destinations. They also don’t claim to facilitate your average getaways where people go sightseeing, do a few yoga poses, and meditate.
Both Wallace and Pinto’s clients also come from similar backgrounds. They are typically individuals leading lives in some of the world’s busiest cities — from Dakar to Dubai, Paris, New York, and London. Many are also searching for a sense of spiritual and mental fulfillment.
There is also a prescreening process that goes into planning such elite getaways.
“It’s exclusive in the sense that the people coming on these trips are leaders, that’s their path, that’s their mission,” Wallace said. “They might not quite be there yet, but they are influential leaders getting together to reset, renew, and recharge with like-minded people.”
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Photo Credit: Silfath Pinto's transformational retreats go beyond yoga and relaxation. Pinto is pictured on a Dubai beach. Seba Haddad