Forest Bathing Business Planning
As many students are entering their practical Forest Bathing training weeks, we would like to provide detailed information on how to plan a Forest Bathing business in an FAQ format. This page will be ever-growing as more questions are asked.
1. How much should I charge for a Forest Bathing session?
Some guidance we could give on how much to charge for a forest bathing session is to determine how much do you want to be paid for your time and expertise. This is a bit like negotiating your salary with your employer before you sign an employment contract. If you are confident that you will bring value to the company with your skills and experience that is unmatched by other candidates, you should be able to justify a higher salary expectation. Keep in mind that you will need to be able to market yourself in such a way that your employer, or clients for that matter, can perceive your values and unique propositions.
Most typical businesses deploys Cost-Based Pricing
In our case, the 3-hour Forest Bathing trip we offered in Kyoto was priced using Premium Pricing. We consciously priced our Forest Bathing trip in Kyoto above the competition to brand ourselves as providing a more superior experience.
But to give you an idea of how much you should be charging, we see a range from approximately US$17 for a 50-min virtual session to US$79 for a 4.5 hour session, in person, with the majority being a 3-hour experience for US$30-35.
2. How to effectively track and manage time well during a Forest Bathing session? Is it appropriate to (be seen to) check the watch frequently?
If you advertise your experience as being, say, 3 hours, making sure that the experience lasts for 3 hours shows that you are a true professional. One may think that giving an extra 15 minutes will delight your clients, but your clients may have something scheduled right afterwards. So, you want to be effective at time management.
Our suggestion is to wear a wrist watch, rather than checking the time on your phone. It is less obvious to glance at your watch, instead of flicking your phone.
Generally, if you do the trips enough times, at the same locations, you will be able to estimate the time it takes to walk from point A to point B, given the same speed. Your experience may include sitting or lying down and that is when you could check the time to see if you are on track. In conclusion, it is inappropriate to be seen checking the watch, in our opinion.
3. How to strike a good balance between respecting the client’s pace and not disrupting them, vs ensuring they get to experience a range of activities / locations and not stay too long in one?
When you lead an experience of similar nature, be it Forest Bathing or meditation, one thing many practitioners fear is their experienced being perceived as boring by their clients. So they make that up by adding many activities. Striking the right balance between giving a peaceful meditative experience and an engaging one takes experience.
We would like to think of all experiences we are offering as client-centric and the key to achieve this right balance is FLEXIBILITY. You may have your experience planned, but it is the clients who will hint or tell you what they are hoping to achieve during the session. By this we do not mean you should redesign your entire experience to fit with each client, but rather to personalize it by doing a little less of this and a little more of that. You could also give them choices between activity A and B, instead of doing both. Both activities should then be of the same value, provide similar experience or help your clients achieve the same goal.
The best time to learn their needs is when you first meet them, so use that introductory bit of your experience strategically and ask the questions the answer of which will help you have a little bit of insight on their personalities. This requires tact and sensitivity in social situations.
Having said the above, you will still want to make sure you are the one who lead the experience, not your client. If you clients appear to be very curious and ask a lot of questions, you may want to match the mood using the mirroring technique, but take it down a notch. Though, it is not recommended to mirror a negative mood.
4. Are there any pros / cons to consider between a loop route (start / end at the same spot) vs a route that starts and ends at different places?
We would say this is a matter of preference. In some locations, you will have such choice. If that is the case, we recommend that you make the decision based on YOUR preference and convenience. If both choices are great, why offer any choice at all? Read The Perils of Choice to understand our logic.
When we started out our Forest Bathing trips in Kyoto, there were so many beautiful trails to choose from and we wanted to offer variety. However, when we offered choice of trails, our clients took much longer to respond and confirm. During the session, they asked what the other trails they did not choose were like – the fear of making the wrong choice. Nevertheless, everybody seemed to be happy with the tour, regardless of the trail. At a later stage, we decided to stick to one only trail and the reasons for picking that one was that it was easier to get to and costed less to commute.
If you decide to sell your Forest Bathing trips as a package with multiple trips though, you could add other routes to your package. Though, this does not necessarily translate to higher client satisfaction. An alternative way of going about this is to offer the same route, but alter the experience, maybe to go deeper, even with the exact same routines.
5. In your view, how “silent” should a guided forest bathing session be? While we are definitely not encouraging chatting and are guiding the client to be mindful and be in the present moment, to what extent should we be making exchanges with the client about observations of nature, asking them related questions (e.g. how does nature make them feel etc.) along the way during the session?
What if you client is particularly friendly and chatty, leaving little room for silence?
We feel it might helpful, in some situations, to consider adopting the practice of hoteliers in this case. In luxury hotels, staff generally follow certain standards when they interact with guests. Have you noticed that upon entering your room, the staff will offer to give you a room orientation, pointing out its key unique features that will make your stay more comfortable? This is the case for most ultra luxury hotels. The adherence to the standards is periodically audited by the hotel management or a mystery shopper from a standard auditing company, contracted by the hotel.
Under no circumstances, staff should break the standards as it could lead to lapse in service. There is only one exception to this rule; a guest can break the standard. In the example above, if the guest mentions or hints that he know the room features well and does not need a room orientation, the staff will simply respect the request and leave the room without offering a room tour.
To answer this question, if you are with your client on a one-to-one session, then we would adapt the mood and the silence, or the lack thereof, entirely to the client. To ensure it is still a meditative experience, dedicate one activity in one spot for a complete silence for a specific period of time. This way your chatty client could still experience silence and mindfulness during that one activity, even when the rest of the experience is a little less “silent”.
If you are with a group of people, especially those who do not know each other, client autonomy is a different story. You will want to design activities and space in such a way all parties do not feel awkward because of excessive silence. At the same time, you also want to be tactful when handling a talkative individual so as not to diminish the experience of the others.
6. If we are guiding an introductory session (ie. client’s first forest bathing session), at which point would it be most apt to share about the background, history, benefits etc of forest bathing? At the start, end, along the way?
Each client is different. Some maybe interested in the the history, background, benefits and even research data. Some may simply want to enjoy the experience without being too engaged in the facts, if they are more spiritual. If you set aside some time for tea and snacks at the end of your session, this is probably when it is appropriate to share the information.
You could also consider giving out a small card as a gift at the end of the session with wellness tips, Forest Bathing benefits, etc. This card does not only save you time having to go through a lengthy explanation, but could also serve as your business card, too. This helps to enhance your brand recognition cleverly.
You can gauge their interest in the topics from the questions they ask. So, read cues. It is probably a good indication that your clients are interested to learn more if they ask further questions. In such case, take it as a permission for you to elaborate. Otherwise, we recommend being brief on the topic and move on to another topic that will build rapport. Most importantly, let your clients steer the direction of your conversation.
7. Is it natural / expected for the guide to feel switched on and unmindful during a session? Given the guide is “working” and needs to constantly be managing time, tracking against plan, observing how the client is responding, adjusting on the fly changes to the plan based on weather, client’s reactions, timing etc.?
It is not uncommon to be feeling switched on. However, it is not common to be feeling overwhelmed. Alertness is healthy and it keeps you on your toes. After all, as a guide/practitioner, you are taking care of many things behind the scene and making sure you provide the best experience to your clients.
After several practices, you will hopefully be more at ease with yourself, as your sequence will become more natural to you. Make time to relax and enjoy the experience, too!
A Clear Approach for Dealing with the Stresses of Teaching Yoga gives an authentic perspective on this topic. The comments from the readers are also useful.
8. I read the article “What is Forest Therapy and Can Anyone Offer a Forest Therapy Program?” on The Mindful Library. With this, is the view that as TMT-certified practitioners, we should steer away from using “forest therapy / eco therapy / nature therapy” to describe our service offering?
Too many institutes out there are using the terms Forest Bathing and Forest Therapy interchangeably and, in our opinion, this is rather misleading and is against our ethical standards.
Some of them differentiate Forest Bathing and Forest Therapy, with the latter being an advanced training or Continuous Professional Development or CDP training. It is unclear to us how their trainers are qualified to give certification on Forest Therapy, as none of them appear to have the qualification to do so ethically.
When TMT uses the term Nature Therapy, we use it to signify that nature is the therapist and that there are techniques one uses to be present in nature with the intention of improving one’s mental or physical health.
However, this is an entirely different story for those who are licensed psychotherapists.
9. For someone starting out and looking to run a small one-person business offering forest bathing sessions, what are your thoughts on the proportion of time the person should spend on different types of activities?
The Big Picture – Conceptualizing Your Ideas
When you first starting out your Forest Bathing business or any business, it will be helpful to think about your value proposition to determine what problems you are trying to solve for your customers. Think about what their biggest pain point is. At this initial stage, you will also want to do a self assessment on your skills and try yo combine the skills that are rarely combined to create your niche.
Though a crucial step, we personally do not spend too much time on this process and once this is done, we do not revisit it very often. In our case, once we decide we would focus on offering Forest Bathing training courses, we stick with the original idea and everything else, such as our marketing efforts, content creation and people we network with, is aligned with what we want to be known for.
Once you have determined your concept and your niche, it is time to implement the idea. This stage involves anything from planning for a Forest Bathing trip, retreat or a training center. When you first starting out, we suggest doing so while you have you full time job, or other sources of income. This is so that you do not have to be pressured financially.
A chunk of time during this stage is spent doing research on the venues, eliminating options (using factors such as costs and overall suitability) and going to visit the places to actually experience it first-hand, before designing the itinerary around it. If you are picking your retreat space, we recommend staying there for a few nights or even return to it once or twice more before eliminating all other options. Seasonality may make a retreat space suitable in some months, but not the others due to the weather, the crowd, etc.
Once you have the chosen venue, it is best to stick with that one place, instead of spending a lot of time planning many itineraries for different venues. The rest of your time should then be devoted to creating content, conducting sessions and other tasks that will grow your business.
The On-Going Process
The activities in this stage are probably the ones we spend the majority of our time working on. Just like starting any business, things take time. Be consistent and be patient. If you could do one thing to improve your skills everyday, adding new content to your website every week and telling every new person you meet about what you do (in a non-creepy way), everyday you will be closer to your goal. The intensity of what you do and the frequency of adding new content will determine how fast you reach your goal.
We would say 90% of our time is dedicated to
- Promotional Activities / Website Maintenance / Social Media
Word of mouth marketing: At the very beginning, we gained our clients for our tours from our own circle of friends and colleagues. Oftentimes, we offered free sessions, because it was fun for us to do and it gave us good practice. Words of mouth helped us to get new paying clients which gave us a modest income. It was not the financial gain we were after, but the fact that someone were interested in what we were doing and were willing to pay for it was very motivating.
Creative ways to get exposure: We then went to the internet initially with Airbnb, advertising our 3-hour trip to people outside of our own network. This was when we took it a bit more seriously and we by then had gained sufficient experience to establish ourselves as experts in what we do.
Word of mouth and Airbnb allowed us to have zero expense on our business which was very helpful when we first started. Of course, Airbnb retained 20% of the revenue for each booking, but we were happy to pay for that to get exposure to the audience we would otherwise never reached ourselves. You could also try Meetup.
Content Creating / Blogging: At around the same time we got ourselves on Airbnb, we started building our website, themindfultourist.net, back in 2018, simply to log our experiences with the interesting people we met. This was not necessarily about Forest Bathing. It was about places in Japan we found interesting to visit and see the deep nature. It was about health and wellness tips that we gave to our clients. At this stage, we evolved slowly offer training programs to people in our own network, too.
Website building is a process and adding new content using blog frequently increases your chance of getting discovered by your potential clients. We also do our research on search keywords and how to increase our ranking on search engines to improve our SEO or Search Engine Optimization.
Social Media Engagement: Social media platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook also require maintenance and engaging. This is one of the many ways our potential clients find us. They may not immediately sign up for our courses immediately, but they become leads. Leads take time to nurture and we aim to provide value by answering any of their question, even though it is not related to our services, without worrying whether they will buy anything from us.
Client Engagement: It is equally important for us to engage with our students, both in and outside of the weekly classes. We enjoy getting to know each one of them personally. A lot of times, the questions asked by our students inspire new ideas for our business and for content creation.
Researching / Reading / Keeping Abreast of Relevant Trends: This is something I personally do daily regardless of The Mindful Tourist. In fact, it was through research on wellness we stumbled upon the practice of Shinrin Yoku in the first place. The topics that are of interest to us are holistic wellness, nutrition, mental well-being, psychology, business, spa and wellness industry trends, breathwork and meditation, just to name a few.
Financials and Other Administrtive Tasks: Apart from spending substantial amount of time doing research on the training content and creating the training materials at the very beginning, we make a conscious effort to spend as little time as possible on all financial and other administrative tasks. We use PayPal for payment and that is very simple and straight forward. When we get sign-ups, we keep most of our records on Google Drive. Refusing to be bogged down in these tasks allow us to spend more time on things that matters more to our long-term success such as networking, gaining a speaking opportunity at conferences and enganging with our clients.
The Other Important Things: Networking is something we do actively, not to grow the connections in quantity, but to inspire a meaningful conversation, to create a meaningful relationship, to gain a fresh perspective or to offer solutions.
Apart from that, we also spend time on self-care routines such as exercise, meditate, spend time in nature, enjoy a home-cooked meal and get new inspirations from listening to podcasts or reading books.
10. How to showcase your knowledge and professional achievement on your LinkedIn profile?
Wellness and Forest Bathing Business Startups:
Here are some of the videos we recommend watching to get some motivation.