3 min. reading

Alberta Wellness Retreat Reaches New Markets and New Heights During COVID-19

For more than 20 years, Diane and Bear Baker have been running the Wildhorse Ranch in Alberta, an educational experiential wellness retreat facility. They built their lives and business around a shared passion for being on the land and engaging with the energy of the beings that share our world, especially horses. Diane and Bear are dedicated to finding ways to connect with their clients and strengthen their programs for women’s wellness, Indigenous storytelling, land-based learning and creating sanctuary among the Wildhorse Gardens.

But COVID-19 reshaped the tourism world. As they emerged from lockdown, Diane and Bear saw a need to expand their service offerings and do more to attract business year-round.

Diane and Bear got the support they needed through the Tourism Business Mentorship Program, an initiative in partnership with Indigenous Tourism Alberta. In search of an expert with shared values and a marketing background, Diane and Bear were thrilled to connect with their mentor, CESO Advisor Kathy Manners. Together, they developed strategies, like focusing on social media, and looked at long-term plans to help Diane and Bear get in front of new markets.

Kathy helped Diane and Bear create a five-year plan for their business, which allowed them to see concrete goals and dream big about what the future could hold. With their long-term goal of diversifying their retreat centre, Diane and Bear thought about how they could improve and expand their programs to focus more on women, emotional wellness and land-based, Indigenous-informed healing. With the new plan, they can now take specific, well informed actions to achieve their aspirations.

Building an online presence in a targeted way was another benefit Diane and Bear gained from this program. They mostly use Facebook and Instagram, and the conversations they had with Kathy around consistent planning, analytics and content were helpful in building their online followers. Kathy also provided advice, like exploring TikTok, which fueled Diane’s interest in furthering their digital marketing efforts.

With more posts on social media, Diane commented that she has already seen positive results. More people are engaging with their business, and Diane has received numerous booking requests for women’s wellness retreats, horse experiences and horse-riding summer camp for girls. Many callers referred to what they saw on social media as one of the reasons they reached out.

Stepping into the mentorship program, Diane and Bear didn’t know what to expect. But they greatly valued their time working with Kathy. With the world’s shift towards online communication, the personal relationship they built by meeting in-person went a long way to solidify the trust between mentor and mentee. When asked about the highlight of the program, Diane simply replied, “meeting in person.”

Diane and Bear’s business has always been a way to share their passion, history and stories with others. With the support and knowledge acquired from CESO, they feel confident that they’ll be sharing their passion for many years to come.

CESO thanks and gratefully acknowledges financial support from Indigenous Services Canada.