Lonely Planet Writer

New website is 'Airbnb of yoga' reflecting the rise and rise of yoga retreats

A new online booking platform is set to try and tap into the wellness tourism market by positioning itself as the ‘Airbnb of Yoga’. Established by two Silicon Valley veterans with a passion for yoga and travel; BookRetreats aims to connect travellers looking to unwind and get healthy with hand-picked yoga retreats around the world.

Yoga relaxes practitioners on the ground and can do the same during long flights
Yogis can combine a retreat with a holiday. Image by Grand Velas Riviera Maya / CC BY-SA 2.0

Travellers can also search for retreats by categories like detox, luxury or meditation or by the styles of yoga they’d like to practice while there. There’s also options to combine yoga with other holiday elements, such as surfing, nature walks and even some lounging on the beach. To help with the trust element of the start-up, the platform also pulls in TripAdvisor reviews where possible.

Yoga has been a booming business ever since it grew popular as a form of exercise in Western countries in the 1980s. While there have been other websites – such as BookYogaRetreats – that have facilitated finding a wellness break, this is yoga’s first foray into a sharing economy platform. By doing so, the founders hope to help reach more people and help continue to sharp rise of the popularity of yoga retreats. Yoga is a huge part of the ‘wellness tourism’ market, a growing industry that was estimated at nearly US$500 billion in 2015.

One person who isn’t surprised about the increased popularity is Andrew Winter of Vale de Moses retreat which is nestled in the foothills of the Serra de Estrela mountain range, one of the most remote areas of Portugal. Over the last five years, he’s witnessed a huge spike in bookings – they’ll be fully booked again this year – as well as an increase in the number of yoga retreats opening up. His family has hosted over 1,000 guests and volunteers from more than 40 countries and he asks every single one of them why they decided to choose their retreat in the middle of the largest pine forest in Europe.

Vale de Moses is situated in one of the most remote parts of Portugal.
Vale de Moses is situated in one of the most remote parts of Portugal. Image by Vale de Moses

“It’s symbolic of a desire to change their lives. They’re desperate for somebody to take care of them. They don’t just want to spend their precious free time on the beach. They want to see a change in their habits and lifestyle and often going on a yoga retreat for a week is symbolic of that.”

The community atmosphere of a retreat also attracts people looking for a spiritual break.
The community atmosphere of a retreat also attracts people looking for a spiritual break. Image by Vale de Moses

Andrew estimates that tens of millions of people now practice yoga around the world and the reason is simple. “What we’re seeing from all cultures and age groups and what we’re hearing time and time again is that stress levels are rising in work. The demand for their time to be constantly available through technology, their demands in work are increasing while job security is decreasing.  That creates incredible tension in our body and people are turning to massage, yoga, acupuncture and a whole range of therapies to help. People are stressed out, they’re anxious, they can’t see an end to it, all while dealing with all the other social pressures as well. The natural antidote to that is to take yourself out of that and retreat.”