Founder Britnie Turner went from living in a car to running a successful business making a difference in the travel industry and beyond
Set on a private island in the British Virgin Islands, The Aerial is a luxury all-inclusive resort unlike any other in the Caribbean.
“We’ve all been to those all-inclusive resorts where you go and you can just drink the whole time,” the resort’s founder Britnie Turner tells Travel Courier. “I wanted to create a place where people go not to escape — but to find themselves — because if you find yourself and you find your passion and you find your purpose and you start to align your life with those purposes, then there’s no limit on what you can accomplish and the good that you can do. So it’s a very odd concept for a resort, I guess.”
The purpose-driven resort is built around a mission of doing good while focusing on health and wellness experiences for guests. Notably, the 43-acre Buck Island property is also the first stop on the Heal The Heroes initiative, a program that helps veterans and first responders transition from military and service careers back to civilian life.
“Twenty-five veterans from all over the world, most of them from America, and first responders come for healing,” she says. “They kickoff a year-long program that starts on the island. These are veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, addictions, really loss of purpose, many of them are suicidal, and when they come to the island we show them why the world still needs them, why their lives still matter. We have very specific programming built around helping them see their lives with a different perspective.”
For regular guests, the resort focuses on transformative experiences that encourage travellers to get out in nature and explore various hiking trails and on connecting with the animals on property. They take part in wellness and mindfulness activities like yoga, sound bowl therapy, meditation and fitness classes. Healthy eating is also at the core of the resort.
“I grew up eating healthy food and I just thought it was awful. Like I don’t want to eat like a rabbit. If I had a cookbook it would be called Healthy Food Doesn’t Have to Suck because our food here is winning awards, it’s absolutely delicious and very, very good for you,” she says, adding that at least 15 guests have lost up to 100 pounds since coming to the island and being inspired to start on a healthier journey. “Locally sourced, organic, no preservatives.”
The resort can be booked for complete buyout packages for corporate retreats, wellness getaways or even wedding packages. Or, new this past year, agents can now also book single- and double-occupancy guest rooms and villas for their clients.
“All of our rooms have different intentions. Everything from Dream, Clarity, Strength, Honour, Wisdom, Love, Grace, Courage, Hope, Gratitude, and so on and so forth,” she says. “And so whatever room is most resonating with you, you pick and then we have set activities throughout the day like morning hikes, yoga, water therapy, mealtimes, but we also have the opportunity for everybody to customize their stay as well.”
For travel advisors, she says the resort would be a great fit for clients who are looking for a next-level wellness retreat as well as for their high-end clientele.
“The purpose of the island, for me, was to create a space where people go to find themselves,” she says. “The food — this is the new luxury because people care about their health in a way they never have before, especially after COVID. The rooms are again second-to-none and they are all uniquely different.”
There are 40 staff members on site helping to facilitate the guest experience ranging from wellness practitioners to chefs. The property boasts a very high rate of repeat guests.
“What’s cool about this property is the layers of impact. Not only is it impacting people staying there, but it’s impacting the local community and the global world,” she says. “We have opportunities for guests to give back as well, if they want to do turtle tagging or get involved in local kid’s programs. There’s an opportunity to replant the mangroves that have been destroyed by hurricanes.”
Before founding Aerial, a company with many businesses under its umbrella including a real estate development firm, and going on to be named the 6th Fastest-Growing Women-Owned Business by Forbes magazine, Turner actually wound up living in her car.
“I bought my first house at 18 years old so that I could learn how to rent them out and have a thing called cash flow, and use that to fund sustainable solutions across the globe,” reveals Turner, who has been doing mission work since she was 12 years old. “In that process, I ended up moving to Tennessee, renting out that house in North Carolina, working for free for some people who were flipping houses. I ended up living in my car and working for free for about nine months. And it was the worst economy ever in 2008, a terrible time to get into real estate but I learned how to work really hard.”
After purchasing the island several years later, a string of bad luck ensued. First, the property was “annihilated” by both Hurricane Irma and Maria in 2017, which led to many setbacks. Then, after a lot of hard work and perseverance, she was “pushing hard for an April 1, 2020 resort opening date” when the global pandemic caused her to shift plans yet again.
“It was just a string of hit after hit trying to get this thing open but when it finally did it’s been able to radically impact so many people’s lives,” she says.
Along with the Heal The Heroes initiative, the property also features Redemption Ranch, which is home to 21 rescued zebras, horses and miniature horses that were destined for kill farms or slaughterhouses.
“Redemption Ranch is really taking animals that people said were not worthy, were not lovable, and we train them now to be used for equine therapy. We use them a lot with our veterans, we find therapies for PTSD. We also have local non profits come over, ones that help women and children who have been abused,” she says. “Kids that have been abused come over and learn about animals, how to process their own traumas and how to love on other creatures.”
For regular guests, the ranch is open for horseback riding and simply the chance to connect with animals as well as the equine therapy.
“One of the things advisors ask about is — you talk about giving back, is there a giveback element to this? Ten per cent of the top-line revenue goes to funding things like the rescue of these animals, to the healing of the veterans as well as once we heal the veterans, we actually repurpose them if they so choose, as what we call humanitarian special operators.”
Through this initiative, the Heal The Heroes graduates are offered opportunities to help out in disaster zones and work on anti-trafficking initiatives.
“They conduct missions all over the world, rescuing kids from sex trafficking, as well as doing disaster response as medical teams and bringing in aid that nobody else can get into,” she says. “If you think about it, they’re made for the most austere environments in the world and they can accomplish missions that other people say are impossible. And so it gives them life to go do these missions and it actually saves lives for them doing missions. And in the last 24 months, we’ve rescued over 8,000 people. By staying there, you are actually funding good that is happening all around the world.”
Looking to the future, Turner hopes to expand the concept to over places around the world. Since the resort is so different from its counterparts, she says guests truly have to experience it for themselves.
“You kind of have to go there to see it and feel it to understand it. It’s not easy to market it by saying that. And so I just want to affirm for anybody doubting that this is a reality or possible for a resort: go check it out. Go experience it. I think it is the way travel will be for the future,” she notes. “I’ve had suicidal people go there and say now for the first time in 42 years they actually want to live and so it’s really exciting to just see life poured back into people through an asset, and a resort. I’m hoping that we not only can shift why people travel but also expand this concept to more places in the world because it’s so needed.”