Suzelle Snowden gets paid to travel to luxury resorts to do what she loves most: exercise! (Photo: Suzelle Snowden)
Have you ever wondered how teachers leading yoga, Pilates, and Zumba classes at luxurious Caribbean resorts landed those oceanfront gigs?
Chances are, Suzelle Snowden hooked them up.
Think of her as an agent to fitness and yoga teachers with wanderlust. Snowden’s company, FitBodies, has been supplying select all-inclusive resorts across the Caribbean and Mexico — including upscale brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Dreams, Secrets, and Breezes — with teachers since 1992.
Suzelle leads a class in Punta Cana (Photo: Suzelle Snowden)
The fitness professional fell in love with Jane Fonda-style workouts in the mid-’80s and seized an opportunity that emerged in the early ’90s. Snowden discovered that all-inclusive Caribbean resorts were starved for quality fitness and yoga teachers.
So she helped craft the concept of a “teaching vacation.” In exchange for teaching a few classes each day for a week, qualified FitBodies instructors get free room and board at the all-inclusive resort. Plus, they get to bring a guest. And in some cases, their kids. All for free. Not bad, right?
We’re aching just by looking at her — Suzelle demonstrates TRX. (Photo: Suzelle Snowden)
When Snowden isn’t serving as a teacher to these luxurious resorts, with which she has long-standing relationships, she sends certified and prescreened instructors looking for a low-cost holiday. (There is a standard booking fee per trip, and the cost of roundtrip flights is the responsibility of the instructor.)
Each week, her team is sending up to 100 teachers (plus their guests) on weeklong teaching vacations at luxury all-inclusive resorts across the Caribbean and Mexico, with new openings popping up on the FitBodies website regularly. The sun-kissed blonde spends a few weeks each month in tropical locales herself.
Yahoo Travel caught up with the spunky 59-year-old at home in Kentucky — in between her visits to resorts in Costa Rica and Cancún — to learn about her white-sand-beach life and how she transformed a single Jamaica resort client into a thriving business that now includes more than 50 all-inclusive resorts and 23,000 teachers.
OK, so why do you think you have the best job?
Everybody tells me that. I love to travel. I love fitness. I love meeting people. I think I have the right personality to pull it off in these other cultures. I don’t get all dressed up in a business suit. My office is a lounge chair on the beach. Not much to complain about!
Just another day at the office. (Photo: Suzelle Snowden)
But you are still running a growing international business.
Nobody realizes that I’ve been building this up for 20-plus years. Anybody who has tried [to copy me], thinking that it’s an easy thing, I always kind of laugh about it. I don’t get a break from it like other people do when they have a 9-to-5 job. My job doesn’t end. When I travel, I’m always plugged in. But it’s a pleasure. I love what I do.
How did it all begin?
My husband and I went to a resort in Jamaica. And, of course, I had to work out. So I go to this aerobics class, and the instructor is absolutely horrible. She was cute, she was Jamaican, she had the rhythm, but she didn’t know what she was doing. I’m such a stickler for form and cuing. I had to leave. I was really disturbed by it. Not by her, but that she was going to hurt someone in the class. [The next day], she’s sitting in a chair and informs everyone that she can’t teach today because she hurt herself. That didn’t surprise me. So my husband says, “Why don’t you teach?” She was happy to let me teach the step aerobics class. The music was rocking, we had the whole floor moving, people were having a blast. The entertainment director comes down and asks if I would continue to teach the rest of the week. Of course, I’m absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t believe my luck.
So this Jamaica resort became your first client?
Yes. At the end of the week, [the entertainment director] was really excited, and she said, “Wait, are you coming back? I said, “Yeah, six months from now.” And she said, “You want to teach?” And I said, “Not only that, but I’m going to train this instructor.” Not long after that, another hotel in that same chain was interested. They wanted someone every week. This is when it was like, “OK, I gotta consider this an actual business.”
Sounds like the business grew pretty organically then, almost by accident?
It grew out of need. I wouldn’t do any sales calls. Resorts would come to me. Every hotel for probably the first 10 years contacted me.
Given that you’re sending so many people all over the Caribbean and Mexico each week, have you had any hiccups along the way?
Years and years ago, I was on holiday with my family in South Beach for New Year’s, and I had this guy going to teach in Curaçao. The guy calls me and says, “Hey, Suzelle, I’m getting ready to board a plane to Caracas.” And I said, “No! No! You’re going to the wrong country!”
Another generation of instructors (Photo: Suzelle Snowden)
He was going to Venezuela? Should a geography quiz be a part of your instructor screenings?
[Laughs] It wasn’t too far from Curaçao, thank goodness. He flew to Caracas, Venezuela, then flew back over to Curaçao and made it there a day later to teach the classes.
What are the classes like for your teachers?
They’re going to teach the beginners, people who’ve never done it before. They’re going to teach people who are overweight, people who’ve probably already had a couple of cocktails, people who don’t have the proper attire. They don’t speak English. And there’s the guy who’s been working out since 1986 and the 2,000-hour yoga practitioner. All these people are in one class, and that teacher needs to make everybody happy.
That’s a big responsibility while on vacation, a time when you’re meant to relax. Why do teachers opt for this style of vacation?
Because they love what they do. They wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. Especially for fitness and yoga teachers who are “on” 24 hours a day, this is a true vacation. And many of them don’t have the means to travel to these luxury resorts. Once they do it, they don’t travel any other way again, and not just because it’s a great deal.
What are some unique surprises that have come from your arrangements with these resorts?
We have turned so many people on to yoga. You can’t even imagine how many people show up because they’re like, “I’ve never done yoga before. I’m not going to go to a yoga studio and embarrass myself. Let’s try it here.” Or, “I just finished my book, and I’ve got nothing else to do. There’s a yoga class going on. I might as well try this!” There’s no fee, it’s all included, and it’s right in their face. This is the perfect opportunity to try out something new. You don’t know anyone, you have the time and a more open mind while on vacation to explore new avenues.
FitBodies instructors come prepared to teach and inspire the diverse group of people who take their classes. (Photo: FitBodies/Facebook)
For someone who’s traveling to tropical destinations all the time, do you have any travel rituals?
I pack a multitude of hats to match every occasion. I actually pack too much because I like to make decisions once I am there and not before I leave. [Once at the resort], I get up every morning at dawn and run on the beach for at least an hour. Then I grab a yoga mat and find a space on the beach to have it in front of my face when I practice my yoga. Then I grab a cup of coffee and read some emails before I head to breakfast. I do this whether I am there to teach classes or to work with management only. It’s a great way to start the day!
Most would kill for that sort of routine. Does the traveling ever get old? The luxury resorts? The exercising?
I never get tired. I never think, “Oh, I wish I didn’t need to check my email right now.” If I don’t have a teacher at a resort for a specific week, I always offer to teach yoga, spinning, boot camp, aqua. I’m certified to do it all. So I will go in and do the classes. I get that same feeling I got when I first started. It is such a thrill to be standing there and talking with these people and knowing they’re excited about being there and happy that I’m there.
Do you have a favorite destination?
That’s a tough question. I have a lot of favorites, but I fell in love with Los Cabos when I visited there three years ago for the first time. It was definitely love at first sight, and I have the same feeling every time I return.
It’s not all work for Suzelle. Here she is at Costa Rica’s Dreams Las Mareas (Photo: Suzelle Snowden)
What advice do you have for travelers headed down to a tropical all-inclusive for the first time?
Be nice! Pushing your weight around is not going to get you very far. Be prepared for any kind of weather. When it’s windy it can be chilly, so pack lightweight jackets and hats, bug spray, and, of course, sunscreen no matter where you go. And my main advice would be even if things aren’t perfect when you arrive, walk out to the beach, check out the view, take a deep breath, and be inspired. When on “island time,” we all must adjust our impatient tendencies.