The fast-growing psychedelic wellness and tourism space is sprouting companies that facilitate retreats and experiences, and they’re increasingly open to working with the trade.
By Christina Jelski
May 24, 2021
Jonathan de Potter’s immersion into the world of psychedelics began nearly five years ago, after a stint as a high-level executive at a global consulting firm left him with a severe case of corporate burnout.
“I was living in Hong Kong and in this cycle of chasing clients and deals, traveling a lot for work, putting in long hours and looking for that next promotion,” said de Potter. “And after several years, I remember looking at myself in the mirror one morning and thinking, ‘Is that it? Is that all there is to life?’”
De Potter abruptly left his job and took a year off to journey across Central and South America. During his travels, a friend persuaded him to attend an ayahuasca retreat in Peru, which he found to be a deeply impactful “eye-opening” and “humbling” experience.
De Potter spent the next three and a half years traveling the globe and seeking out psychedelic retreats around the world as well as scientific reports linking psychedelic use with positive mental health outcomes.
“We’ve got decades of incredibly compelling research [on psychedelics] from Johns Hopkins, New York University, Harvard and Yale,” said de Potter. “And now you’ve got tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people traveling for these types of experiences. But there’s a massive gap between the demand and the science and then the policy, which hasn’t yet caught up. These experiences are completely unregulated, and the variability in quality out there is [huge].”
Seeing an opportunity in the need for a level of quality control in the fast-growing psychedelic wellness and tourism space, de Potter last year founded Behold Retreats, a company specializing in the planning of private and customized individual and group psychedelic experiences.
Working in collaboration with practitioners in markets including Costa Rica, Mexico, the Netherlands and Peru, Behold Retreats caters to clients seeking safe and legal retreats that utilize plant and fungi-based psychedelics like ayahuasca, psilocybin (commonly known as “magic mushrooms”) or San Pedro cactus, a source of the hallucinogenic mescaline.
The typical Behold Retreats experience involves a seven-week program, which includes one week in-destination at a retreat center and six weeks of virtual pre-retreat and post-retreat guided integration. The starting price point for one of Behold’s all-inclusive programs is around $12,000.
Behold Retreats is open to exploring advisor relationships and offering commissions.
“I think we’re just at the beginning of an inflection curve for plant medicine demand,” said de Potter. “And I think this will become an interesting segment from a travel perspective, because people now want to travel with purpose. They want to have a life-changing experience.”
Behold Retreats is just one of several players looking to tap into the zeitgeist of psychedelic wellness, as a new breed of modern psychedelic organizations and retreat centers foray into the sector. Rather than offering a relatively rustic or unstructured experience, many operators are focused on crafting curated, highly supervised retreats. These include ones that lean on guidance from psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, put guests through a rigorous application and approval process and offer guests access to group workshops, counseling and other wellness programming.
They’re also increasingly open to working with the travel trade.
One such organization is Jamaica’s Diaspora Psychedelic Society, which is the brainchild of Omar Thomas, a retired U.S. Army veteran who began his own personal journey with psychedelics nearly 25 years ago.
Launched in 2020, the Diaspora Psychedelic Society works with a psychiatrist and doctor of pharmacy to assess potential guests.
“All of our participants are screened thoroughly by our medical staff in advance,” Thomas said. “We typically turn away two persons for every one we accept, just because we want to be sure that what we’re doing is a good fit for that individual.”
The organization offers five- and seven-day, all-inclusive group experiences that comprise airport transfers, bed-and-breakfast-style accommodations on Jamaica’s Treasure Beach, food and beverages, psychedelic medicine sessions and various coaching and group discussion programs.
Pricing for a five-day experience starts at around $3,500 per person at single occupancy and drops to around $2,600 per person at double. Although the organization has yet to work with any travel advisors, Thomas said that the group would consider such partnerships.
Notably, the Diaspora Psychedelic Society has made the hiring of Jamaican therapists at its center a priority.
“We don’t consider ourselves a ‘retreat company,’ because we want to make the distinction that we have a mission beyond just making money,” said Thomas. “We have a lot of community-building efforts going on here in Jamaica, and because I’m of Jamaican descent, I really want to tap into the intellectual capacity that’s here and get Jamaicans involved on all levels as stakeholders.”
Indeed, Jamaica has emerged as something of a hotbed for psychedelic tourism, due primarily to the fact that the use of psilocybin is technically legal on the island.
“There are actually no laws in Jamaica around psilocybin,” said Justin Townsend, CEO of Treasure Beach, Jamaica-based psilocybin retreats group MycoMeditations. “If you ask me to point to the law that makes it legal, there isn’t one. And likewise, there isn’t one saying it’s illegal, either. So, Jamaica, because of its unique position where there are no laws around it, it’s certainly become attractive to [psychedelic] businesses and pharmaceutical companies. It’s getting frothy in Jamaica.”
Townsend, who took the helm at MycoMeditations in 2017, credited some of the company’s success to the 2018 release of Michael Pollan’s book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.”
“That book was a bestseller,” Townsend said. “And it went a long way toward helping legitimize what we do and, to some degree, remove some of the stigma around psychedelics left over from the ’60s and ’70s.”
Although MycoMeditations was forced to suspend its operations between March and August of 2020 due to the pandemic, the company has seen demand intensify since its restart. Townsend said MycoMeditations’ seven-day retreats, which start at around $3,000 and can go all the way to up $12,000 per person for a high-end, “white glove” concierge experience, are currently booked through September.
Despite past outreach efforts, the company doesn’t currently have any advisor relationships in place. However, MycoMeditations is “open to these partnerships if the opportunities arise.”
“As you can imagine, society is full of people with mental health issues, and that’s only been exacerbated by Covid,” said Townsend, adding that the company’s client base is quite broad from a demographic perspective.
“A typical retreat normally consists of about 50% female, 50% male, and we get everything from blue-collar workers to white-collar workers from all kinds of professions, people from their mid-30s through to their 60s,” said Townsend. “We get very straight-laced, very regular, very normal people that, if you passed them on the street, you probably wouldn’t think they’re going on a psychedelic retreat in Jamaica.”
Another Jamaican upstart is Montego Bay-based Silo Wellness, which made its debut in 2018 and first kicked off its psilocybin retreat programming earlier this year. The company is carving out a niche by offering themed retreats, such as a five-day Ultimate Pride & Love retreat ($6,800 per person), which caters to members of the LGBTQ community, and the six-day, fitness-focused Body & Mind Recharge retreat ($7,200 per person), both set to be held in June.
The company said it’s “very open to offering commissions, discounts, select VIP packages, net rates, etc., on a case-by-case basis” to advisors.
“By theming the retreat, we can target folks that are like-minded and can better communicate with one another,” said Silo Wellness CEO Douglas K. Gordon. “We see these retreats as a way for people to come and amplify their lives and unlock the best version of themselves.”
Gordon added that although he predicts Jamaica will continue to be a top market for psychedelic retreats, he has high hopes that a growing legalization movement around psilocybin will create opportunity for psychedelic wellness hot spots elsewhere. He cited potential for future psilocybin retreats in Oregon, where Silo Wellness already operates an outpost specializing in ketamine programming.
“We intend to be a leading player globally,” Gordon said. “So, we’re looking at other jurisdictions where we think its a good fit to execute our retreat model and where we can give clients a good experience.”
In the Netherlands, where a legal loophole classifies psilocybin as a food rather than a pharmaceutical, psychedelic retreats are also gaining traction, according to Martijn Schirp, co-founder and chief visionary officer of Amsterdam-based psychedelic retreat group Synthesis.
Launched in 2018, Schirp describes Synthesis’ approach as one anchored in “research, safety, legality and professional guidance,” with guests provided sessions with clinical therapists and psychiatrists, among other specialists.
A three-day Synthesis retreat costs around $3,000, while a five-day retreat comes in at roughly $5,000. The company said it’s willing to work with advisors.
“We really want to make people feel safe in the sense that they think, hey, this is for normal people,” said Schirp. “You don’t have to be at the outskirts of society to be interested in this.”
Schirp added that Synthesis had enjoyed “one of its biggest months” just before Covid hit. Although the pandemic has severely hampered travel into the Netherlands, he said the company hopes to resume normal operations come September. Currently, Synthesis has more than 100 people on its waitlist.
Looking longer-term beyond the pandemic, Schirp said he’s bullish on the future of psychedelic wellness. The company is actively planning for expansion into Oregon, where he expects legalization efforts around psilocybin to come to fruition within the next two years.
“I actually didn’t anticipate seeing such an explosion around this,” Schirp admitted. “I thought it would go fast, but it has outpaced all my wildest predictions in the last three or four years. Instead of acquiring goods, people have been shifting toward experiences that provide meaning, and that is all happening on the back of growth trends around meditation, yoga, health and mindfulness, etc.. And this really fits in that same box. I personally believe that, one day, this will actually be much more popular than the yoga retreat.”
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