The idea of incorporating elements of health and wellness into meetings is no longer out of the box or trendy. It’s what’s expected, just as it is in the everyday world.
That, of course, is good news, because the days of sitting for hours in windowless meeting rooms and breaks devoted primarily to the intake of caffeine and sugar were not good for us — and, ultimately, not optimal for productive learning, creative brainstorming or teambuilding, either.
Yet that doesn’t mean planners have to reinvent the meeting wheel. There are endless ways of bringing elements of health and wellness into a meeting — via food choices, break options, connection to nearby health and wellness venues, meeting structure and setting.
Hotels often already have necessary elements in place, especially with today’s chefs well-attuned to dietary health and wellness spaces and/or instructors already onsite in the form of spas, fitness staff and robust activity rosters.
The makeup of a particular group often drives the decision as to what works and what doesn’t when it comes to adding health and wellness to a meeting.
Matt Marvel, director of business development and marketing at Jordan & Skala Engineers and co-founder of Georgia Built and BUILT National, typically incorporates wellness into his meetings, as he has for an upcoming event at Sea Island Resort in Georgia.
“We make sure all events and meetings allow time for wellness,” he says, “including workouts, downtime and group activities. As for food, all of our meals and menus have turned healthy and, we hope, smart — lots of lean proteins, vegetables and salads. We’re staying away from anything fried, heavy starches and junk food in general. Time is also key. We make sure not to eat dinner too late; before 7 p.m. is our preference.”
“Wellness is here to stay. I think it’s essential to keep everyone engaged and energized and feeling their best. Active and healthy and balanced — work less, play more and live longer! It’s not a bad plan.”
— Matt Marvel
About Sea Island, he says, “I can’t think of many places in the United States that offer the variety of wellness activities that Sea Island does, along with the setting it’s in and the beauty of what has been created there. It’s something special. To have the opportunity to have your event there and do the activities that you would like is so nice. Sea Island is helping us create Beach Olympics one afternoon and also our own specialized Sea Island Spring, the resort’s version of the ‘Amazing Race.’ We’re bringing in multiple fitness instructors to help with morning classes; we’ll have yoga each day, daily group runs, biking and more.”
Marvel’s group will use many of the resort’s activities and facilities, including the beach and beach club, spa and workout areas, tennis, golf, biking and kayaking. “We have met with members of each team, and they’re helping plan events where the schedule allows,” he says.
Although adding wellness foods and activities may impact the budget, Marvel calls it “minimal at best.” He says there’s no question that attendees want healthier options.
“We just finished an event where we offered cups of celery and carrots with hummus during a break, and our attendees went crazy. Everyone is still going to want that cookie from time to time,” he adds, “but healthier options are being asked for and preferred, such as nuts, veggies and hummus, fruit, etc. Plus, I don’t think it’s the cookie we’re super worried about. It’s the processed junk food and heavy starches that need to go — chips and fries, for sure.”
While Sea Island raises the bar on health and wellness for groups, Marvel says many hotels should consider improvements.
“Mini bars need to be redone with better options. And most hotels are super far behind with workout rooms, what those rooms offer and where they’re located,” he says. “Hotels should make them more prominent, make them bigger and bring in more natural lighting. I travel every week, and there are hotels I truly love but struggle booking my stay there because the workout facilities are so bad or so small and limited. Basement areas with no windows are the worst. In-room workout options would be nice. If guests could order kits from the front desk and have them delivered to their room, or just have some things in the closet, that would be great.”
In the end, Marvel says, “Wellness is here to stay. I think it’s essential to keep everyone engaged and energized and feeling their best. Active and healthy and balanced — work less, play more and live longer! It’s not a bad plan.”
Kristin Hems, CMP, and Annie Rector, CMP, the COO and CEO, respectively, of Kansas-based Third Avenue Events, brought a Mazda National Lifestyle Program to California’s Rancho Valencia, where wellness figured prominently in the event.
“Providing an opportunity for attendees to be able to completely unplug and tune in to their own body and mental needs allows them to fully engage during particularly challenging or stressful parts of an event. By focusing a specified amount of time daily to wellness or health awareness, we’re creating an environment of encouragement and positive mental energy. Caring about attendees encourages them to care for themselves,” Hems says.
“Depending on the schedule and group goals,” she continues, “we try to encourage clients to set aside at least an hour daily for attendees to focus their energies on themselves or an exercise activity to help reduce stress and combat mental fatigue.”
The team at Rancho Valencia was very receptive to Rector and Hems’ requests to add both meditation and yoga sessions to each group of hosted attendees. “We worked closely with the spa team to select instructors and shape sessions to benefit and complement the rest of the program,” Hems says.
Food is an area of focus, as well. “We take dietary considerations very seriously and try to provide balanced and health-conscious menus,” Rector says, noting that snack foods are often driven by the client’s own preferences. “If healthy options are important to a client or their event, we make it a priority to be selective in offerings during breaks. One thing we have found that works nicely is to not offer dessert with both lunch and dinner, but to offer a dessert option as the afternoon break.”
Hems believes a significant number of attendees take advantage of healthy options when offered, including morning yoga and other programs. “It truly depends on the group and the demographic of the attendee,” she says, “but we’ve seen as much as 50 percent participation in scheduled wellness and health activities.”
While the planners know added activities can impact budget regardless of whether part of a heath or wellness angle, Rector says, “we think it’s important to consider all aspects of the event during the planning phase and build a budget that meets the financial goals and overall objectives of the event.”
And they believe, too, that wellness has become part of the core culture of the country. “The larger population and the working generation now are putting a greater focus on health and wellness overall, Rector says. “The more opportunities we, as planners, can offer attendees to achieve health and wellness goals while in a new and often stressful environment, the more appreciatively attendees seem to respond. With increased focus from both sides — planners and attendees — this could be a piece of meetings that stays around for quite a while.”
Corinne McCanse Schmidt, president, Corinne McCanse Events, Inc., also believes incorporating wellness into a meeting is beneficial to attendees and stakeholders and that including wellness in meetings and events is more than a passing trend. “I think it is here to stay,” she says.
In terms of how she builds wellness into her meetings, Schmidt says she most typically focuses on offering healthy food choices.
“But there’s one meeting,” she says, “where we offer a morning run. Last year, the Westin Copley Place coordinated a morning run for our leadership exchange participants. The group met the hotel’s running concierges in the lobby at 6 a.m. We have about 35 people, and there were five running guides to lead them on a wonderful route of about three miles through Boston. We also had a group of walkers that did about a mile.”
After the Boston Fun Run, Schmidt says, the same group asked to do it again the following year. “The hotel we used didn’t offer running support, but we had two of our staff, who are avid runners, lead the group on a very informal morning run. We will probably continue to do so annually.”
Schmidt says she hasn’t seen much of an impact on her budget when incorporating wellness elements, though The Westin Copley Place offered its run as a complimentary service. Still, she says, “I haven’t seen a big difference in the food and beverage budget.”
Schmidt’s attendees have specifically told her they appreciate the inclusion of healthy options; however, she does think attendees really want healthier break foods or just believe they should want them? Schmidt says, “I think it’s 50/50.”
Yet when hotels offer morning yoga and other healthy activities as an option for meetings, Schmidt believes her attendees do attend these sessions.
In terms of break foods, she says, “I usually order a combination of whole fruit, some kind of protein bar or raw bar, nuts and cookies.”
Tasha Miller, lead planner and partner at Meant2B Events, speaks to the beneficial aspects of meetings with a wellness component.
“Incorporating wellness and health into a meeting or event is beneficial to keep attendees alert and engaged,” she says. “Keeping one’s mind, body and soul nourished will help keep one’s attention longer; by investing into attendees, they will invest more into you and the meeting.”
Miller, who has brought multiple events to the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona, says that one thing she’s changed about her meetings is that now she has attendees, “take a moment to write down everything that is on their brain, then have them see what is adding unnecessary stress and how can they eliminate it.”
She says it’s important to give attendees time during meetings to talk and use the restroom, and to provide mid-meeting snacks and beverages. She also includes breakout periods of standing up and stretching because, “sitting during a long meeting can make you tense so that you start thinking how miserable and uncomfortable you are.”
And, of course, she says, “Keeping people fed and hydrated is huge. You will keep your attendees alert by providing light refreshments so they don’t become hungry or get a headache from lack of food or water.”
Miller says, “More and more groups are heading into selecting and adding environments, venues or different aspects of wellness to their meetings.”
And though certain additions, including food and beverage, as well as allocating more time in the schedule for wellness activities, can increase a budget, she thinks wellness is going to continue to be more a part of meetings.
“I see attendees more often going for healthier options vs. unhealthy options unless they are not given an option,” she says. And when hotels and planners offer such activities as morning yoga or other pre-meeting activities, she believes attendees are taking advantage of them. “It’s a way to engage attendees,” she notes, “rather than just depending on speakers to engage them.”
Innisbrook, a Salamander Resort, in Palm Harbor, Florida, is another property that lends itself well to meetings with a health and wellness component. “The grounds at Innisbrook are ideal for encompassing stress reduction and rejuvenation exercises and sessions,” says Angie Proctor, who has brought a group of aquatic exercise experts there for meetings.
As someone involved in the exercise industry, Proctor believes that adding wellness to any meeting can be highly beneficial. “It provides a great stress reduction in the learning or meeting day and allows for an escape to recharge the brain and energy systems,” she says.
For her group, the day typically begins and ends with specific types of health and wellness activities. “Even though our events are physical in nature, we have found it beneficial to begin each day with a wake-up session of indoor- and outdoor-type movement, and (end the day) with yoga or classes to balance both the mind and body,” she says.
Like others, Proctor says that when morning yoga or other types of healthy activities are offered as part of a meeting, not every attendee will participate. “Not the entire delegation,” she says, “but a healthy percentage of them.”
Proctor notes that post-conference survey and feedback responses have indicated that most of her attendees do “appreciate the breaks and/or wind-up and wind-down sessions in the schedule,” and she doesn’t believe that there has been a negative impact on the budget. “It’s an added benefit for everyone,” she says.
But when all is said and done, do attendees actually want healthier food options or, on some level, prefer the more traditional cookies and other sugary snacks? Proctor says definitively, “They want them.”
Like many other things, break foods are a matter of balance. “They also want something satisfying,” she says. “They are putting out a lot of energy on any given topic of the meeting, and a little extra treat is always a good thing — especially if meals are healthy, balanced and appropriate amounts of proteins provided.”
Proctor wishes hotels would offer more quick-service spa treatments for meetings. “I would like to see more promoting of reflexology and tension-reduction massages in chairs, loungers and so on, so that attendees can get a quick fix without having to go the whole way to the spa, undress, etc. When people are at a conference venue, the time for a full spa service simply isn’t readily available,” she points out.
Incorporating health and wellness into meetings is definitely, in Proctor’s view, not a passing trend. “It’s a lifestyle,” she says. “Anyone thinking otherwise needs to pull their head out of the sand trap!”
Considering all of the health and wellness elements now in place at many meetings, it seems a given that such practices are only going to increase as time goes on and more attendees make health and wellness a core element of their daily lives. C&IT