When Lotusjourneys.com was launched, its aim was to cater for the explosion in demand for yoga holidays and holistic breaks. Eighteen months later, the market for some 'me time' is stonger than ever. Lucia Cockcroft reports.
Zoe Stebbing was taking a career break in the Spring of 2004 when she first hit on the idea of launching a website specialising in the hugely popular yoga and holistic retreats market.
Stebbing, a former PR specialist, realised there was a ready-made niche for an online company acting as an umbrella for this increasingly diverse industry.
Eighteen months later, www.lotusjourneys.com, which runs with the catch-line 'quality holistic retreats online', appears to be thriving. ''We are wider than just yoga”', explains Stebbing. ''The site covers detox, fitness – any discipline related to healing.''
Lotusjourneys pitches itself as offering ''affordable luxury, quality service, authentic holistic experiences'' in the form of a handpicked selection of healthy retreats from around the world.
Destinations include Spain, Ibiza, Italy, France, India, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Kenya and the Azores. Life coaching, hiking, swimming with dolphins, fitness training in Kenya, and yoga retreats blended with other activities, feature strongly.
Stebbing describes lotusjourneys.com's main market as 'the 'Zeitgeist' – people looking for more out of a holiday than lying on a beech. ''As a nation we are more stressed and have more leisure time and money. Detoxing and life coaching breaks are more popular than ever.''
Most takes are women – although the market is growing, Stebbing says – and are middle class professionals, looking for some time out.
Unsurprisingly, Stebbing's background in PR – and the useful journalist contacts she has – has helped get lotusjourneys into the public eye. In the company's early days, she approached big names in the retreat world such as Inspa, inviting them to come on board.
Then, gradually, suppliers and retreat companies came to her, and the PR firm Ann Scott associates ran a six month launch campaign for the site.
There are now a number of similar websites embracing the holistic retreats market, including another new entry, www.wellbeingescapes.co.uk
The Boutique effect
But Stebbing says these tend to be 'slightly more corporate'. Lotusjourneys makes a fuss about offering a personal approach, and a site that 'succinctly brings together a variety of quality retreats around the globe'.
She adds: “”I like to think of mine as a bit more boutique and personal. Other sites tend to be more of a directory and packaging everything up by selling flights. They are also much more spa-orientated''.
Lotusjourneys certainly looks the part: it's clear, clean and easy to navigate, with some striking images used to great affect against a clean white background. The range of retreats on offer is eclectic, and although some are undeniably pricey, others are affordable.
Stebbing says there are three notable best sellers: Moinhos Velhos in Portugal - a fasting and detox health retreat, popular due to its guarantees of offering quick weight loss; Inspa's range of detox and yoga nutrition holidays in Ibiza, Spain and Morrocco; and European yoga holidays such as In Sabina, near Rome.
From a standing point 18 months ago, lotusjourneys now has over 5,000 unique visits a month. Future plans include expanding further into the asian market, and ever-popular spa areas.
With our insatiable demand for some pampering, 'me time' and tools for a slower pace of life, there's every chance lotusjourneys.com is on to a pretty good thing.