Online Platforms That Make Retreat Planning Easy With Jen Corley

By Catherine Kontos@KontosCatherine

RB 16 | Retreat Planning

 

With countries slowly lifting their lockdowns, the desire to travel is at an all-time high. Companies want to start booking their employees out in retreats. Online co-workers who want to finally meet each other outside of Zoom want to travel. Suffice to say, booking agencies are huge right now! Join Catherine Kontos as she talks to Jen Corley about the online platforms that make retreat planning even easier. Jen is in charge of Product Marketing and is the Director of Development at WeTravel. She believes that the travel industry is going to boom this year. Start booking your retreats today!

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Online Platforms That Make Retreat Planning Easy With Jen Corley

Jen Corley is the Director of Development at WeTravel, a booking and payment solutions company. Jen, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much. I’m excited to join.

I have not been necessarily a podcast guest on WeTravel. It was on Facebook. I don’t know if you consider that a podcast or not. I enjoyed being a guest on WeTravel. My subject was about negotiations with sponsors and getting free travel. I’m happy to return the favor because I appreciate WeTravel. Before I was even asked to be a guest, I enjoyed the value that you all bring to any traveler or retreat expert. There are a lot of articles and a big library of stuff that people can go look at. I have never seen so much value that a company gives out as much as WeTravel. I want to say thank you.

I love our company. One of the things that we have gotten right is a huge set of investments in value decisions around providing a lot of educational content. We launched our WeTravel Academy. It has tons of audio, videos, articles, useful eBooks, and other downloads. I’m excited to be a part of that. It’s rewarding to hear that you personally have found some stuff there that you thought was worthwhile.

How long have you been with the company?

I have been with them for quite a while. I joined when our founders were in San Francisco. They are now based in Amsterdam. We now have a team of 50-plus people all around the world. It has been a lot of evolution over the years and it’s still the same core values of the team. It has been fun to see the product and our reach grow. I also meet different colleagues worldwide because our team is pretty spread out in terms of nationalities and languages.

You are one of the originals. That’s nice to grow with the company. What did it start off as? Was it always what it is now or did it start off as something else?

The founding story is fascinating. Our CEO is Swiss. He worked for the Red Cross in Central Asia a few years after college. He had these breaks during the year that he had sabbaticals, where he would take groups of Europeans, friends, and family on travel across different parts of Central Asia. He did that, and a semi-professional travel organizer realized that so much pain went into group trips. There were lots of spreadsheets and annoying chasing people down for money. There was no all-in-one solution to that. That was the kernel of the idea. It’s still very true to where we are now.

It’s hard to forge personal connections over Zoom. It’s the conversations around the pool that makes teams work so much better.

As all startups do, you find your audience and what is valuable to them. You continue to take that feedback and grow. The product has evolved, changed, and gotten better. In terms of his original experience, he had that personal experience. Our other two founders are from Indonesia and Azerbaijan. They wanted to come together and build this product that would allow people to organize and travel more easily. It’s still at the core of who we are. In building the team, they have been able to bring that to life in terms of bringing people together as a company. I’m thrilled to still be a part of it from day one to now.

It is a booking so people can go on there and book their group travel, right?

The tool is meant for the providers or creators of the travel experiences, whether that’s a retreat leader or a company that does adventure tours. It’s anything with group travel and multi-day. It’s everything from individual organizers or maybe yoga teachers who do this 2 or 3 times a year up through big companies with dozens of clients and departures every week of the year. It’s a pretty diverse space.

It’s the booking and payment engine. It’s usually embedded in somebody’s website or on a standalone booking page. The idea is that the members of the group can go on and book in early in a user-friendly way. For the organizers and providers of the travel experiences, there are all kinds of booking management and operational and fund transfer tools that are meant to save money and time. It also makes the experience a little bit easier and more streamlined for them and their teams.

You make life easier for the retreat expert. You went on a retreat with the WeTravel company. I want to know what you are planning at a retreat.

That is so funny because sometimes you hit the nail on the head. Our engineers sometimes have the most technical issues of anybody. There were some things that were challenging. We are a startup, so everyone is wearing a lot of hats. We don’t have an in-house person in charge of this. One of our product managers has also been with us for quite a long time. She got nominated to plan this.

She did a fantastic job working with people coming from every part of the globe in different countries with different visa situations. COVID was a reality we had to test before and upon departure. She did everything right, but I know it was a big task. They asked her to do something that was outside her job description. We used WeTravel to get everybody registered and put all the information together and everything. It provided a good opportunity for us personally.

How was that as a corporate retreat being in our feet and environment? How did that help the culture of your company? I don’t know what the point of the retreat was if there was a certain goal. Do you feel it made a huge difference or not much? What difference did it make to be in that environment?

RB 16 | Retreat Planning
Retreat Planning: Travel organizers experience so much pain when it comes to group trips. There are a lot of spreadsheets and chasing people down for money. There was no all-in-one solution to that problem.

 

That’s a great question because it’s something that we have done other than when COVID prohibited it. We have done it every year. In the first year, we went to Bali. We were sixteen people. We have been to Portugal, Turkey, and Amsterdam. Every year, the group size has grown a bit. When our founders decided this would be an annual ritual for our company, it was because we were remotely distributed from the beginning. That was one thing in COVID that we didn’t have to overcome. We were already all distributed across different time zones. The idea is like, “Remote teams are great, but it’s hard over Zoom or whatever to forge the personal connection.”

Every time we get together as a group, there are deep-strategy sessions and a lot of actual work that happens during the week. The evenings and the conversations around the pool and the informal getting-to-know the colleagues make our teams work so much better across different time zones and understand each other better. It’s remarkable to see the productivity that happened in the few months after the retreat. Everyone was very energized and excited about working together. For any companies that have the opportunity to do these teams, big or small, it’s money well spent because it’s not cheap, but it’s worth every dollar spent.

That’s what I call a retreat. It’s leaps and bounds into getting to your goal very quickly. Especially because of COVID and there’s so much more remote working, your company has been based like that. You were remote from the beginning, but a lot of companies had to pivot that way throughout COVID. A lot of them are planning on staying at least half-time remote. Especially with the world expanding on the internet and all of the remote work that does happen internationally, it’s a great way to get different groups, teams, and people to meet. It creates that synergy of everything, whether it’s strategy, brainstorming, or enforcing that company culture.

I appreciate you talking about that because I know that being in the position that WeTravel is very important to have that. Tell me a little bit more about what you have found throughout the years that you have been working there. You said payment is a pain. What is it that you feel somebody should do as a strategy when it comes to all these bookings and payments? You have the strategy down. What is it that they should know before trying to figure it out all on their own?

For a lot of people getting their feet wet in offering a retreat, a lot of people are focusing a lot on the journey in person. That is paramount to put together a thoughtful program that’s great. Focus your energy there and make sure that everything is well put-together. Sometimes people underestimate what is required or don’t tackle it quite as rigorously as everything that happens in terms of planning, marketing, the query back and forth, and the journey with the people who ultimately sign up. Their journey starts the moment they begin interacting with you unless they are a long-term client of yours.

Make sure that you plan your time accordingly and understand financially what you need to make out of the retreat to make all of that time. Make sure you are compensated for it. To your point about our solution and where it fits in, it’s anything you can do to make your job slightly easier, whether that’s leveraging technology or the knowledge of peers and communities who have been through this before. They have some good insights to share with tools and efficiencies to be gained.

That all can make your life and your experience doing this a little bit easier. That ultimately translates into the full experience for the client. It’s not just when they are there, but it’s before in preparation, during, and then after they go off. They had an amazing experience. They are super excited to do it again and tell all their friends about it. It’s a lot more than just the week, long weekend, or two weeks that you are in destination on retreat.

What do you feel for people that think like, “I don’t want to spend that extra money going through a booking agency or what you offer?” What do you tell people in cases like that?

A client’s journey starts the moment they begin interacting with you.

It’s interesting because a lot of people might think, “I have to outsource this and pay for it. That’s going to be money out of my pocket.” If you are going to be taking payments online other than checks, Venmo or something more informal like PayPal Friends and Family are free solutions. WeTravel is not much more expensive because there’s an option to do an ACH transfer. Our fee is 1%. If you have ever collected payments online, that’s pretty much among the cheapest that you can do it.

For your students, participants or retreat goers signing up, when they pay online, they can pay by direct transfer from their bank account. That’s no fee to them or they can pay by credit card. In which case, they elect to pay the credit card fee, which is 2.9% in the US. It’s a little lower in Europe. It’s a little higher if it’s Amex. They take that on if they opt-out of paying by bank transfer. Generally, it’s not an excessive cost situation relative to other online payments. It’s a little more than just doing it purely the old-fashioned way in terms of having somebody do Venmo or something like that.

Does that include putting up a landing page?

Yes, it does. The 1% of the fees that run through the system is the fee. That comes with the ability to build either an embedded checkout on your website if you have a sales page on your website or a WeTravel-hosted standalone booking page. Some people want to use it because they are doing a collaboration and they don’t want to put it on one website or the other. There are a lot of different use cases why you might want to do that or you don’t want to build out a new landing page. Both of those scenarios of how people would buy are included in the 1% of the fees transacted.

Honestly, 1% is not very much for all the hassles that you are going to avoid the headaches. It’s all there. Everybody pays. You are done. You don’t have to chase anybody. I’m assuming there are reminders for the payments as well and when the time is due. How has it been for you with COVID-19? I know everybody got hit hard this past, especially in this business. Do you see the lights? Do you see a difference already or do you foresee a difference coming up?

We already see a difference. It’s one of these things about working in a global company because the reality on the ground is different. It depends on where you are geographically, if you are in the Southern or Northern Hemisphere or if you are in the cold season or not. I’m in Oakland, California. We are still pretty careful and masked up. Not a ton of people are traveling. I have colleagues in Europe whose borders have been open. They have been on multiple international trips.

When you have that global view, you realize people are already starting to travel. Even if you are in one of the geographies that’s a little bit locked down, the demand is so pent-up for travel, especially travel that’s immersive and transformative. It allows you to connect with other people, retreats, and all of those things.

We are not only seeing bookings already scaling up. On our platform, we haven’t maybe seen all of the funds go through the full booking cycle. We see the bookings increase, but the leading indicator of the number of retreats and other trips that are being built out for being marketed in the next quarter or so has skyrocketed. I feel like that’s the leading indicator in terms of people are going to be buying travel in droves in the near future. To be ready, it’s time to make sure you are checking out where you would want to go and the vendors you are going to work with because they may have been wanting and hurting for business for a long time. They are going to be flooded shortly with people wanting to visit and work with them.

The prediction is that the fall is where we will see that big wave of travel happening. Is that what you see with your numbers as well? Is it the fall?

RB 16 | Retreat Planning
Retreat Planning: The demand for travel is so pent up because of the lockdown that bookings are increasing.

 

The fall is typically a fairly busy time for us overall. It’s a little bit of geography because if you talk to people in Australia, it’s probably going to be seasonal. For anybody in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s probably before that. If we are talking North America and Europe, late summer to early fall will have the full benefit of the emergence out of COVID. Plus, it’s still good weather and travel season. I’m pretty optimistic about the summer, to be honest as well. Cautiously I might say, we will see a big bump in fall.

Do you blame us for not being cautious? Every time we are about to do it, something happens. The difference I see this time is all the experts are saying the same thing. Everybody seems to be in agreement. Where before, there was always a bit of caution, but we were optimistically thinking,  “Maybe I see.” Now, whether it’s the travel industry, health or government, you see the action being taken. It’s all going that way. We are right here to say that. I’m glad you see the numbers as well rising within your platform. That’s very promising to hear for me as a retreat expert as well. What are the plans? Are there any new plans coming along with WeTravel? Anything that you are excited about that you would like to announce here?

The one thing about COVID like that silver lining is some of our company resources focus on trying to have an ear to the ground for our customers, both current and future customers. We are understanding what they wanted, needed and desired, both in a vacuum and in terms of how the world has frankly changed a little bit in terms of COVID. Without going too far into the weeds, there have been a lot of times that we have had to tinker with a product and make it even better. That has been exciting.

In terms of a big initiative or area that we are going into that is cool is that, as we are growing as a company, we have more people in our network for more countries. Historically, a lot of the value in the booking, payment, and admin management also has a lot of potential in our vendor network. As that grows, you will be able to instantly send payments to vendors. This is already possible, but it’s not quite grown to the extent that it’s going to grow in the COVID recovery. It’s being able to both transfer funds, communicate with, and potentially source vendors in a very specific geography.

Let’s say you are going to Greece. On one specific island, you want to go into WeTravel and say, “What vendors are there and available for me?” Eventually, there are peer reviews and all that stuff. We have a huge vision in terms of this networked payment solution for travel providers. It’s connecting your audience or people interested in retreats with other folks they might want to do business with in terms of producing their retreats and making them come to life. That’s exciting. Nothing will change about our product. It will open up new opportunities and support our user base slightly differently. I’m pretty excited about that.

It sounds like another pain point that you are hitting on, which is awesome. Anybody who is reading should make their life easier and use programs like WeTravel to make life easier. It’s all there and why not? The thing is, maybe they don’t even know and now they know there’s a solution. I’m happy that you came on here. Thank you so much for providing us with all the information that WeTravel has been doing and is going to continue to do. I’m excited for your team, my team, and the entire travel industry because we have been waiting so long for things to open up. I can’t wait to see what you are going to be up to in exploding because you will. I know it. You know it too.

It’s great to be in conversation with you. You are insightful. We enjoyed having you talk in our Retreat Leader Hub group. Thank you for inviting me to talk with you. It’s an exciting time. There are some unknowns, but that’s why we are putting more than one head together and trying to figure all this out in the community together.

Good luck with everything. I know we are going to be talking more. Take care, Jen.

Important Links

About Jen Corley

RB 16 | Retreat PlanningIn my role at WeTravel, I head the Wellness Travel segment of our business. I’m responsible for strategic development, including sales & marketing strategy, branding, community-building, and project management. On a day-to-day basis, I work directly with organizations and wellness professionals in helping them leverage our product to grow their businesses. In connection with ongoing project work, I create and distribute educational content, manage strategic partnerships, interact with the media, and organize online and live events.

Written by Founder & RetreatEO at RetreatBoss™ retreatboss.com

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