There is no denying the role of tourism in a country. However, it can only run as deep if it remains within national parks and destinations and bypasses communities. All for a more immersive experience, this episode’s guest is changing the way local communities are impacted by tourism. Skyler Mason from SKYIN is a provider of life-changing experiences for immersive and luxury travelers while supporting local communities and villages with enhancing sustainability. In this episode, he joins Catherine Kontos to share the story of what inspired him to start his company and gives us a glimpse of what a day looks like under their care. If you want to up-level your transformation with retreats, look no further than the one person who has perfected it. Skyler creates transformational experiences that impact the guests and the communities in Kenya. Tune in to this conversation to learn more!
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Immersive Experience In Kenya With Skyler Mason
We are back with an incredible guest, Skyler Mason from SKYIN, a provider of life-changing experiences for immersive and luxury travelers while he supports local communities and villages by enhancing sustainability. Welcome, Skyler.
Thank you so much for having me.
I’m happy to have you as my first guest back after a bit. December 2022 was the last show after 29 episodes. You’re number 30. Congratulations on that. Thank you for being here. We connected on LinkedIn. That’s how we found each other. I love what you do. I love what your company represents and the whole sustainability aspect of it. It’s very important to me.
It’s part of our values at Retreat Boss and the experiences that you are creating in our incredible soul. Thank you for creating this purpose in your life, where you’re transforming people’s lives. I appreciate it. Where did all this start? Who is Skyler Mason? What made you do this? Who are you? People want to know, I’m sure.
That’s a great question that I get all the time. Let’s start with the story of where this all came from. To this day, my parents still had no idea where this came from because they’d never been anywhere in Africa before. They said that I was so captivated and fascinated by African culture. As a toddler in my diapers, I used to run around the house drumming, dancing, and singing.
I was like a part of this tribe. Growing up, at an early age, my dream was to go to Africa, but not necessarily for all the wildlife and the animals like most people want to go and see. It’s to immerse me in the culture, the indigenous, and the tribes. Most children in the US especially want to go to Disney World and get toys for their birthday.
My dream every single year was for my parents to take me to Africa. I was begging my parents. At the age of 14, I had some family friends from Kenya who invited me to come to stay with them and their families for an entire summer. As you can only imagine, my dream is finally coming to life. I’m able to go to a part of the world and stay with local families, immerse myself in local communities in the surrounding villages, and travel across Kenya with the local guidance by my side every step of the way.
I was able to experience a real-life experience as any tourist could ever imagine. It’s not one that just sees all the tourist attractions like everybody else, but to immerse, connect, and build these real relationships with communities. I don’t look nor sound like them, but they treat me like I am one of them. The first time I touched on Kenya, I truly fell in love and started going back to Kenya ever since. I was building such extensive relationships throughout the country. That was years ago.
To start, I grew up in a family business. It’s a smoke salmon manufacturer based here in Denver, Colorado. We service all of the US and it’s a big company. My father found it in our garage many years ago. I grew up with a family business. I went to a prestigious business school, San Diego State University for Business. After college, I started running the company with my father.
Following my dad’s footsteps was what my calling was all about, but that’s not where my heart and my soul was. Right then and there, I knew that I was done being the next Kevin Mason. I wanted to be the first Skyler Mason. I told my father, “I’m done with this.”
He was at a part of his life where he wanted to retire and move on and I did not want to follow in his footsteps. I wanted to create my own because what I saw from him is the fulfillment of creating something. It’s like a child, growing it, building it, and making a big difference for other people by creating jobs and opportunities.
At that part in my life, I had to escape, but I didn’t know what my next steps were in life. I did what most people do, and I went on a soul-searching adventure. I went back home to Kenya and I spent a summer there to figure out what my next steps in life were, not realizing this would all come about what SKYIN is.
I want to point something out that you said naturally, “I went back home to Kenya.” That’s very telling where your heart is. Interesting, go on.
That’s what it is. Kenya is as a home to me as here in the States and while I was down there, something hit me harder than ever. These communities, people, villages, and families that I call my own, are suffering from lack of jobs, lack of resources, and lack of opportunities. I knew right then and there, I don’t have the funds or the resources to give out stuff, but I have that business mindset and the set of skills I’d acquired from my father in running the family business and my education to be able to create something and that impact that I’ve always dreamed of wanting to do.
Again, did not know it was going to come from Kenya, but I realized that there’s a reason my calling and passion has been all around Africa. Right then and there, I said, “I’m going to create something.” I didn’t know what to do. Do I build something? Do I manufacture something? Do I resource something? What do I do to create a lot of jobs and sustainable impact for these communities?”
I came to realize that tourism runs the country, especially in Kenya, but tourism bypasses the communities and makes the lodges and national parks richer. Years ago, I said, “I want to make a change. I want to be the change of how local communities are impacted by tourism.” I can duplicate the same immersive, authentic, intimate, transformative experiences I had growing up in Kenya, immerse myself into these communities, and provide those same experiences to travelers.
To see it more from a local’s perspective and do it in a way that’s going to create that sustainable impact by creating lots of jobs, opportunities, and resources to help improve daily life for its people, culture, and communities, and make that impact that I’ve always dreamed about. That’s where SKYIN came. If you asked me many years ago where I would be now, I never knew that my passion, heart, and ability to go to a part of the world and say that I’m a part of multiple tribes to be a part of these communities and to now be able to take travelers and immerse in them.
Please don’t get me right. It’s not just about going to Kenya and experiencing the culture and the tribes. It’s about getting an overall vision of what Kenya has to offer from its wildlife to its beaches, to its rich and ancient history, and its culture. That’s why here at SKYIN, I designed our company to offer the most immersive and authentic excursions, both luxury and authenticity, creating these excursions that allow travelers to see all the different nuances of what makes up Kenya and how special and magical it is.
What is a day like at one of your excursions or retreats? You do also collaborate with wellness retreats, corporations, and all that. Give me a day in the day with SKYIN. What happens?
It’s hard to dive into one day because I could say one day, we’re on a safari. The next day, we’re engaging at a local school or children’s orphanage. The following day, we’re at a Maasai village, deep in the remote, 100% exclusive to SKYIN only, and immerse yourself for a full day with our tribe. There are all different components, but to start with, what’s cool about this experience is that we connect all our travelers directly with a highly vetted local host families.
Not only do travelers have the opportunity to come to Kenya and stay with a host family in their suburban homestay in Nairobi for parts of their excursion, but as we take them across the country, our local team guides all our travelers, our guests, our coaches, and everything. They take them across the country to be there for their insights and tips, for their personal resources, but most importantly, assuring their safety and security.
What’s cool about this concept is that you and I can see each other. We can feel our energy. We can see how we look. It’s the same concept when it comes to our host families. We connect our travelers to their host families ahead of time through video chats. They have the opportunity to build that relationship, trust, and confidence, get to hear, listen, and spend time with their families through a series of video chats leading up to the trip.
Once they touch down in Kenya, when they walk outside those airport doors, they’re not looking for some random guy with some sign to take them to their hotel and lodge. They’re looking for their host families with familiar faces, the biggest warm welcome, hugs, and smiles, which allows travelers to feel like they belong and feel like they’re accepted in their coming home.
How does that work when it’s a group?
We have a variety of different host families and keep in mind, all our host families are highly vetted. They speak fluent English. They go through high amounts of internal comprehensive training. They’re also the background in screen through the government each and every year. For example, let’s say we have a group of anywhere from 10 to 16 travelers.
Their day-to-day experiences will be traveling with the group together. For the period of Nairobi, when they stay with the host family, they’re going to go to their representative host family for dinner and overnight stay. It’s like a hotel room or a resort. People travel together. They’ll be able to go at the end of the day to their separate rooms for an overnight stay and then start again the next day. It’s the same thing with our host families.
We have families in pockets of communities all within Nairobi, the city capital city of Kenya. You would travel together and experience everything together throughout each and every day, but then for those nights that you stay at the homestay, you have the opportunity to then go to your representative host’s family. There are usually about 2 to 3 people per family.
You can have dinner in the overnight state, and then start the adventures the next day. Please keep in mind. For one of our most popular fourteen-day itineraries, only four nights are at the homestay. It’s not like the entire excursion you’re with the host family, you’re there for about four nights and then you go to another part of the entire country from the beachfront resorts on the coast of the Indian Ocean to elegant safari camps and lodges inside the national parks.
We get about 10% of our business that travelers are like, “The itineraries each and every day provides new activities, experiences, and emotions. However, I am not suited to staying with a host family overnight at their suburban homestay,” then no problem. We can opt out and host them at private hotels nearby. All our homestays are fully equipped with the same amenities that we’re used to, private and comfortable bathrooms and bedrooms, access to Wi-Fi, electricity, and full bathrooms such as hot water showers and toilets.
Each and every day offers a new experience and new activity.
That seems like the people are getting the best of not both worlds, but many worlds. They get to experience the retreat aspect of it where they’re together there as a group and experience all of what you’re having to offer and their program. Plus, they could have the choice of being in this intimate setting. They’re experiencing something that they wouldn’t get very easily any other way. It’s also a great time to process everything you’re going through when you’re alone. When you’re with the group, you’re doing one thing, but then you need that time to process alone. That’s amazing.
We have a whole website. We have so many different videos and all that. One of our main staple videos to give you an overall broad statement of what this excursion does look like.
“It’s time to experience Africa in a whole new way. Anyone can travel like a tourist, but with SKYIN, you become a local. SKYIN helps you experience travel in a unique, authentic way by not just seeing the culture but living it. With SKYIN, we connect you to our local host families long before your trip even begins. After months of breaking the ice, meeting your family for the first time feels just like coming home. Gather around the family table and experience what true African home cooking is all about. Venture throughout Nairobi and see where the locals go. Step outside your comfort zone and immerse yourself in unique adventures you won’t and can’t have anywhere else.”
“Don’t just see a village, but live in one of ours for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dip your feet into the beautiful sandy beaches of Mombasa. Get up close and personal with nature. Go on a safari and see animals in their own natural habitats. See firsthand the vibrancy of the Maasai and their unique way of life. Sleep under the stars while nature thrives all around you. Travel is best when you are doing it with family. SKYIN connects you with our open and loving families who will be there by your side to ensure your trip is one you won’t forget. Once you are ready to live like a local just SKYIN in Kenya.”
When we talk about a homestay, you’re not into homes during the day. When people are on a farm and they’re stuck at a home for 3 or 4 days, it gets repetitive, it’s redundant, and you’re doing the same thing. Every single day is a new experience from immersing with indigenous tribal villages. There are two separate tribes. One is the well-known Maasai. They’re the ones that dress up in red and jump up and down, as well as the Mijikenda tribe. These are two tribes in these villages that I grew up in. I have the opportunity to take travelers there and offer full days, immersive experiences.
They’re going to meet and engage with the chief’s men of the tribe of the community. They’re going to story tell with the tribal elders inside their huts and learn the roles of all the women and the warriors from the roots of it all. It is to give our travelers such a deep exploration of who they are, their culture, their traditions, and rituals. We got awarded through the Kenya Tourism Board Signature Experience Collection rolling out in 2023 for our Maasai Village experience to show and define authenticity transformational as well as sustainability.
Congratulations on that.
Thank you. It was a big award and it’s cool to see that a company like ours gets an award through the Kenya Tourism Board for offering that experience. The Maasai has been there for decades, centuries, but to offer that more non-commercialized experience. If you look at other safari companies, what they offer especially with the tribes is a commercialized village. You show up. You have a park here sign. You pay as you get in, you sit on a bench, and you watch performers perform for an hour.
At ours, it’s 100% exclusive. You’re going to share meals with the villagers. You’re going to learn how they make their jewelry in their homes, go to their watering hole, go to the local schools, and learn about the education for the tribes. As I said, it’s to give our travelers such a deep explanation of who they are. In return, it creates a sustainable impact, jobs, and resources that they don’t have elsewhere. By me engaging travelers and bringing them to these communities, it’s creating a sustainable impact for them.
I have a question. Someone comes to you and says, “I’m a retreat leader. I have a wellness program that I want to immerse my clients and my guests.” How would the process go? How would you take their program, include it, and immerse it into what your program is together to create a phenomenal experience? There’s what you’re offering, but it’s also what the leader wants also as part of the program. How would that work?
I am very active. We have a team and office based here in Denver, Colorado. That’s our tour operator. That’s all logistics, payment, communication, and arrangements. Everything is based here in the US. While you’re over in Kenya running our excursions, our local team is traveling with you by your side every step of the way. We do wellness retreats. We have been doing this for years now. I get with the curator, the wellness coach, whoever that may be. I want to sit with them and understand what they’re looking to get out of their excursion.
I would first pitch them all the different experiences from immersing in the tribal villages to staying in homestays to engaging our local schools and children’s homes to go into the coast. Everybody knows the white sea and crystal blue water beaches. Spend some beautiful relaxing time at beautiful luxury beachfront resorts, but also put them on very authentic salient voyages on those traditional dhow boats. Go on a safari, immerse into wildlife sanctuaries, and dive into the experience that we offer.
As I mentioned, learn about what the coach is looking for. I had done a wellness trip before where they had to set aside an hour every single morning for the coach to be able to have these lessons to evaluate and be able to reflect on the day before. Depending on what the coach is looking for or the wellness curator, everything is designed specifically for them. It’s all customizable. Every group and every excursion is completely different.
We do have some of our standardized itineraries, but it’s being able to blend what we have done in the past to currently what they’re looking for. A big thing is that personalization of being able to understand and for me to be able to reflect and dive deeper into what the experience is, how we can combine the two, and how to be able to co-serve clients while also providing these experiences.
When you go into the tribes, do they show medicinal tricks, things, or recipes that they have?
One of their tribes, the Mijikenda tribe, is very well known for its herbal life and agriculture. They don’t believe in hospitals. They believe that you get to learn all the different remedies, traditions, and rituals. When it comes to the Maasai, they’re known for their livestock, herding, and all that. It’s two completely different experiences. Imagine going to a part of the world that is different than our own, but being able to feel like you belong. I know that seems crazy and so far fetch out there, but the people love and care about guests coming in. That’s what they do it for. It’s being able to connect and show them what their life is all about.
That’s perspective of wellness. It’s transformational. Our taglines travel and attach to the soul because every single experience from the tribes to the schools to the wildlife sanctuary, everything, the homestays, is to provide travelers with a deeper understanding and get that new life perspective that is very transformative.
We have to wrap up in the next few minutes. I want to know what are the requirements for people coming into Kenya like medical requirements, vaccines, visas, or anything.
One of the best parts about Kenya is no vaccinations are required. Even with COVID vaccination, we do highly recommend people being vaccinated. It helps because you don’t have to get any PCR COVID testing done prior to or after. They do recommend a few yellow fevers and typhoid, but nothing’s required in order to enter. You do have to get a visa. It’s super simple. You do it online. My team takes care of everything for our clients.
From touchdown in Kenya to takeoff, we include everything, private transportation, all the different accommodations, meals, experiences, and safaris. Everything is a touchpoint. The only thing we do not take care of ourselves is the pre-travel such as arranging international airfare. That’s another benefit of working with us. We take care of everything from touchdown to takeoff. It’s all-inclusive.
What would be your recommended timeframe? Is it 1 week, 10 days, 2 weeks, or 5 for someone from the Americas?
I would never suggest anything less 7 days and this is the bare minimum. 10 to 14 days is our best-selling. Why? It’s because we’re going to be taking you all across the country, from the beaches to the cities to the towns to the villages to the national parks and reserves. You’re going to be going all around and in my company, we carefully curate every excursion to make sure everything from logistics to traveling to transportation is all done seamlessly but also not feel like it’s rushed. We care about the experience. I created my company not to be able to in it for the money. I do it because I want to create that experience for other travelers.
Where can people find you?
You can find us online. Our website is LiveSKYIN.com. My company name is called SKYIN. SKYIN and Skyler has some resemblance, but SKYIN is a verb, to sky in like you say, “To dive in.” For example, when you dive into a pool, you’re breaking that conventional surface of the water barrier and you’re diving deep under. It’s to sky in to Kenya.
You are breaking that conventional surface of a typical tourist, and you’re diving deep into the roots of what makes Kenya so spectacular and so magical by getting such a deep exploration of everything. It’s not just the culture, wildlife, beaches, history, luxury beachfront resorts, and elegant safari camps and homestays. You get it all and are carefully curated immersive excursions.
Thank you so much for being here. People probably did not know that there was such an all-inclusive experience like this. You’ve touched base on everything from living in the homes of the locals to experiencing the tribes, to safaris, to all of it. If they can take their program and mesh it into yours, they will create an experience like no other for their clients. Thank you for doing this.
Why you didn’t follow in your father’s footsteps?
I never looked back ever since. We specialize in immersive Kenyan excursions, but note that it’s an authentic blend of both authenticity and luxury. If you have clients that want full luxury, no problem whatsoever. We can opt out of that homestay part of the trip and opt them into private hotels. Every single accommodation will be private because I know, especially with some retreats, people want that immersive experience, but they want to go to their private accommodations at the end of the night as well.
We can next match whatever that looks like. Everything’s customizable. My local team here in the US as well as in Kenya is with you every step of the way. We make sure we take pride and joy to take time and get to know the coach, their offerings, what they’re looking to get out of their excursions, and how our excursions can mesh with what they’re looking for.
As it should be done. That’s what I teach in my retreat bus courses. How do you enhance your program with the retreat experience? It’s all about that.
It’s all about education. Please note that I put on these incredible presentations. I walk people through the story and the experience. I have so many marketing videos. It’s not about us being the supplier and you selling it to your clients. We work with you to sell this. We provide you with marketing assets such as marketing videos and photos. We have a beautifully designed customizable adventure guide that walks you through the company, the accommodations, all our private vehicles, and FAQs, and will put whatever itinerary that we curate with you into that adventure guide.
You have this adventure guide with all your information. The pricing, the details everything. You can send that directly to the client because I know there are a lot of wellness coaches retreats, and agents that don’t have the marketing assets and the budget to do that. Another benefit of working with us is we provide that you. We have videos, guides, and all that. We work with you.
I’m also available to host presentations to host webinars. Again, I built this off my experience growing up and I had nothing more than passion to sell what I do. At any time a coach wants to put together an itinerary, go pitch it to the world, and put it on, we can co-host presentations together. That’s what I love to do because it’s about the educational factor that leads to conversion.
I love it. It’s like a turnkey experience for them. It’s perfect because marketing is one of the pinpoints of retreat leaders. They have a hard time putting it all together, where, what, the cost, and all that. You do it all for them. Skyler, thank you so much for being here and informing us of what your services offer and what you do. It’s a valuable service that you offer. As I said, I’m glad that you are doing this because many people can tap into this and create an experience for their guests like no other. Thank you.
It’s my pleasure. If there’s one word I describe SKYIN, it’s opportunity. It gives travelers this life-changing, immersive enriching experience while in return, you’re making a sustainable impact for the communities that you’re engaging with. Thank you again for having me.
SKYIN gives travelers this life-changing, immersive, and enriching experience while in turn making a sustainable impact for the communities they’re engaging with.
Have a wonderful rest of the week. The people on our Facebook group got to see it first in Boss-Up with Retreats. Thank you for being here and watching it. If anybody is looking for any courses on retreat planning or is looking to plan a retreat, please visit RetreatBoss.com. If you’re looking for that Kenyan experience, go to SKYIN.
SKYIN is here to help and assist in any way we can.
Thank you, Skyler.
- Boss-Up with Retreats – Facebook
- Adventure Guide
About Skyler Mason
Having grown up traveling across Kenya, I created SKYIN to extend my life experiences with other travelers by exploring Kenya more authentically off the beaten path in hope to change how local communities are directly impacted by tourism. SKYIN’s mission is to provide life-changing experiences for immersive and luxury travelers while supporting local communities and villages by creating sustainable jobs, opportunities and resources to help improve daily life.
Our excursions offer the exclusive opportunity to deeply immerse with indigenous tribes, connect with vetted local host families, engage at children’s schools and orphanages, uncover Kenya’s ancient slave trade history, explore and relax on pristine, tropical beaches, and discover exotic wildlife on safaris. Each excursion offers a variety of extraordinary accommodations from beautiful suburban home stays in Nairobi, to luxury beachfront resorts on the coast, to elegant safari camps and lodges inside the national parks and reserves.
Having offices and representatives in both Denver, CO and Nairobi, Kenya, SKYIN specializes in custom group travel and FIT offering all-inclusive excursions from touchdown to takeoff, or partial day cultural experiences that can be added to any of your existing safaris from current Africa suppliers.