Healthy RewardsOctober 1, 2016

Meeting Planners Add Wellness Activities to Revitalize Mind, Body, Spirit — and ROI By
October 1, 2016

Healthy Rewards

Meeting Planners Add Wellness Activities to Revitalize Mind, Body, Spirit — and ROI
Group yoga on standup paddleboards at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.

Group yoga on standup paddleboards at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.

Business considerations aside, maintaining a healthy work force is a worthy goal in and of itself. But it so happens that there are significant business benefits to a company wellness initiative, from increasing productivity, to reducing employee health insurance costs, to creating an attractive corporate culture. And while the initiative is usually pursued at company offices (e.g., the corporate gym), there is no reason why it can’t be extended to offsite meetings. That’s where the meeting planner fits into the picture. Helping to integrate wellness activities and nutrition into an event’s busy agenda is among the more recent additions to a planner’s skillset. Meeting owners are often calling for it.

A global health care company provides one example of prioritizing wellness. “Wellness has definitely become a more important part of our sales training meeting than it was in the past,” notes Jodi Bradley, meeting manager, U.S. meeting services, Maritz Travel and contractor providing services to the health care client. “The leaders of the group strongly feel that adding the wellness component to the meeting really strengthens attendees’ ability to learn and concentrate, as well as allowing them to feel really good about themselves, which in turn helps their mind, body and spirit.”

Striving for Success

The natural temptation from a business perspective is to fill the day with sessions, but that approach can ultimately deplete mind, body and spirit. ROI may be better served by allotting some time to revitalization. Accordingly, Rohde & Schwarz, a Munich, Germany-based electronics group, has infused its National Sales Meeting (NASM) with fitness activities in recent years.

“Five to six years ago, we realized that when you have meetings all day long, you lose retention and people aren’t happy. They tend to compensate by overdrinking in the evenings,” observes Scott McKibben of McKibben & Associates Inc., who provides event planning services to Rohde & Schwarz. “I think that HR has increasingly made it clear that productivity is increased and turnover minimized by healthy employees, and that if you can manifest a bit of that at your meetings and events, you will see the benefits.”

“I think that HR has increasingly made it clear that productivity is increased and turnover minimized by healthy employees, and that if you can manifest a bit of that at your meetings and events, you will see the benefits.”
— Scott McKibben

Rohde & Schwarz Director of Human Resources Anne Cowper is also the main project manager for NASM. She describes the company’s wellness and CSR program, “Strive,” as “my labor of love for the last five years.” She relates, “At first there was a fair amount of skepticism, like why would I be doing this, exercising at corporate events? But it’s really taken off.” Gamification has helped drive Strive’s popularity. Via a mobile app, the program awards points for attendees’ participation in wellness activities, both nutritional and fitness oriented, and compiles a leaderboard to engender a little competition. The prizes for the winners, according to Cowper, have become less extravagant as attendees have become more motivated by the health rewards themselves.

Rohde & Schwarz also sees the program as a way to express its corporate culture at the one moment during the year when its sales representatives are gathered together. “Most of our people work remotely, and it’s really hard to communicate and create corporate culture on a regular basis when people are working out of their home offices or they’re always at customer sites,” Cowper explains. “So Strive (at NASM) is a way for us to infuse our employees with our culture, which is very collaborative and employee-centric. It’s a very visual representation of what we believe to be really important. You can only do so much with emails, phone calls and Skype.”

Partnering With Properties

Fortunately, hoteliers are becoming more adept at helping group clients implement wellness initiatives. Two examples are MGM Resorts and Hyatt Hotels Corp.

In 2014, MGM Grand Hotel & Casino partnered with Delos, the pioneer of Wellness Real Estate, to introduce wellness meeting experiences. Stay Well Meetings includes healthful work environment features such as air purification, circadian lighting (which imitates natural light), ergonomic seating, aromatherapy and more.

In addition, the program offers Wellness Moment Programming, which consists of a selection of short mental and physical activities designed to engage the body and mind. Examples include brainteasers, guided meditation, “Digital Detox” (helping attendees to periodically disconnect from technology) and physical activity breaks. According to Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer at MGM Resorts International, MGM Resorts is looking to be able to expand Stay Well Meetings to other properties within the company’s portfolio.

In June, Hyatt partnered with Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman to support overall guest wellness. Starting with Park Hyatt hotels in New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, the initiative will include healthful refreshments at arrival, wellness-oriented guest room amenities (e.g., yoga mats), additional fitness offerings, expanded healthful menu options and nutritious to-go meals. Guest retreats centered on nutrition, fitness and mindfulness also are being designed.

But a hotel does not need to have a specific wellness program to be a capable partner in assisting a group to fulfill its wellness goals. This past August, Martiz’s health care client successfully partnered with the Hilton Orlando to coordinate wellness activities for the 850 attendees of its six-day sales meeting. “We worked with the (Hilton’s) spa and a local DMC to assist in picking certain classes and setting these activities up for us,” says Bradley. “The hotel was very involved in helping us achieve our goals.”

At the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu, Hawaii, outdoor fitness activities are a natural fit with the property’s surroundings. “We’re very lucky at the Hilton to have Duke Kahanamoku beach, rated one of the top beaches in the world, as well as our own lagoon right here on property,” notes Mike Murray, CMM, CMP, CASE, senior V.P. and director of events, Waikiki Beach Activities. “Rather than offering a spa day or providing a rental car, I’m seeing an increase of groups taking full advantage of onsite offerings, from sunrise yoga to a mini Iron Man competition. There’s something for everyone.”

Indeed, most hotels and resorts have the resources for fitness activities beyond the hotel gym — something more distinctive and memorable. “At every destination and resort we go to, we try to incorporate whatever local elements we can (into wellness program),” says McKibben. For instance, “We were at Disneyland last year, and we had dance classes in the morning. We actually had choreographers come in before the park opened.”

At the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Rohde & Schwarz had available Well & Being, a luxury spa concept featuring fully customized wellness experiences including fitness, nutrition, integrative medicine, mind-body therapies and advanced skincare. Well & Being is currently available at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas and Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa. Specific services include sleep programming with a So Sound Acoustic Resonance Room, DIY aromatherapy blending bar with recommendations from an in-house “alchemist,” and customized “spa’arty’s” for groups.

For outdoor fitness, Rohde & Schwarz was able to utilize a recently opened field at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which offers 21 unique outdoor function areas. “It was really cool to see 95 percent participation in our group fitness events, so when we look at resorts now, we look at their physical attributes as it relates to morning fitness activities,” says McKibben. “We worked with the Fairmont team to create our Strive Fitness Fresh Air Festival, which we strategically placed about midway through the meeting.”

Nutritious F&B

The MGM Grand’s Stay Well Meetings also includes menu options approved by nutritionists at Cleveland Clinic Wellness and designated by the clinic’s “Go! Healthy” seal. Such options are increasingly receiving planners’ seals of approval as well.

“We do everything that we can to do away with food that is not heart healthy,” remarks Cecilia Daddio, CMP, senior manager, events and incentives at Richardson, Texas-based Lennox Industries Inc. “You always have those people that like to go to a sales conference, and it’s a mini vacation so they do want that hamburger and beefsteak. We don’t deny that, but more often than not we’re doing the salad, beans, etc. I think hotels are very open to (healthful cuisine), even down to the meeting breaks: No longer is it cookies and donuts; it’s more your protein shakes, protein bars, yogurt, etc.”

Bradley found the culinary team at the Hilton Orlando more than willing to “see our vision come to life,” she says. “All the foods we chose were served in small plates and were fresh and healthy but also tasty. In addition, we had the food cooked to serve so it was guaranteed to be fresh.” For even more personalization, “we had the chef on our broadcast each morning to do a ‘Chef’s Corner,’ where he spoke about the food they were going to get for the day. Attendees really enjoyed that added touch.”

Getting attendees enthused about healthful cuisine isn’t always easy. Rohde & Schwarz’s sales meeting at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess took a humorous approach to that end. McKibben designed what was called a “Fear Factor Buffet,” which featured “intimidating” health items such as kale salad, quinoa and eggplant. Attendees could gain Strive points by eating from the buffet. The theme was “overcoming your fear of healthy food,” Cowper explains. “Scott had these billboards making foods to look like scary monsters.” McKibben adds, “We work with resorts and their chefs in developing these special buffets, and they really get excited and challenged.”


For most attendees, getting in a workout around meetings at the hotel is nothing new, whether that’s a gym session, a swim or morning jog. But today’s emphasis on wellness has led to a variety of far less mundane fitness activities and, increasingly, group fitness events such as 5K and 10K races. These have the added benefit of promoting teambuilding. “Teambuilding is always part of it,” says Daddio. For example, “when we partner with a DMC, we’ll do beach Olympics, tag football, etc. It’s becoming expected from our guests.”

When offering a variety of fitness options, it’s important to cater to the spectrum of fitness levels and interests. “Some activities we offer, including surfing in the ocean and SUP (standup paddleboard) yoga in the lagoon, you need athletic ability for,” Murray notes. “Our mini Iron Man competition can be customized, but normally consists of a run, bike and swim, which should only be done by those who are able, to ensure safety. For those with less athletic ability or who just simply don’t prefer competition, there are offerings like sand sculpting, aqua-bikes, horseshoes, Hawaiian bowling, hula lessons and much more.”

Murray draws special attention to canoeing, “a big historic sport in Hawaii” and an example of representing the local culture through a wellness activity. “Hilton Hawaiian Village offers canoe races for groups of up to 30 people. They are led by licensed canoe captains (there are only eight licensed canoe captains on the whole island of Oahu) and it builds camaraderie and trust. The groups meet on Duke Kahanamoku Beach where the races start with storytelling about Duke and his achievements (Kahanamoku was a Hawaiian competition swimmer who popularized surfing as a sport). After going over basic techniques and a 10-minute lesson in the water, groups split into teams and race,” Murray explains.

The Strive Fresh Air Fitness Festival also includes teambuilding events, such as a “tough mudder” featuring eight to 10 teams navigating obstacles that mimic the game show “Wipeout.” Rohde & Schwarz also offers events that are tied to the meeting destination. At next year’s NASM at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk, for example, “I think in lieu of the Fitness Festival we’ll probably do another 5K/10K along the Riverwalk and may end up somewhere along Riverwalk to have a fitness expo,” says Cowper.

Whether or not the meeting schedule can accommodate an elaborate group fitness event, the time between breakouts shouldn’t be overlooked as an opportunity for exercise. “We put a fun spin on it,” says Daddio. “When they’re rotating in a breakout session, we have them do jumping jacks down the hall to get their heart rate up, as they’ve been sitting for 45 minutes. We’ve also done skateboarding, where someone has to hold on to the other and run them down to the break area. It’s like back in grade school when you have recess; it re-stimulates your mind. Part of their curriculum is that if they want to get to that mid-morning break and have that coffee, this is what they have to do to get there. And we’ll have something right there at the hotel for them to do.”

Weather permitting, Lennox also is holding more outdoor meetings, she adds, where the fresh air and natural light contribute to a lucid mindset. Indeed, there’s no reason that a casual brainstorming session among a small group can’t be held while walking hotel grounds, for example. And at cocktail receptions, the company is incorporating fitness in creative ways. Participants will be tasked with finding their “partner” who has a matching symbol on his or her name badge, and the symbol might indicate they have to do 10 jumping jacks. Here, fitness is given a surprising role as an icebreaker.

Balancing Priorities

Several components of wellness do not consume time from a meeting’s schedule, such as healthful F&B, utilizing facilities with wellness features (e.g., air purification), and the brief fitness activities reserved for breaks.

More elaborate group fitness programs, however, do require a significant time commitment, and oftentimes added expense. But it’s these kinds of events that really showcase a company’s commitment to employee wellness, and ultimately build the most enthusiasm about fitness.

Allotting time for these programs, and how much time exactly, is thus something worthy of consideration for any major offsite meeting. “Obviously our focus is the training aspect, so we make sure there’s the time available for classes, and then we build the Strive activities around it,” says Cowper. She estimates that about 70 percent of the time at NASM is devoted to meetings, 15 percent to Strive (including the Fitness Festival and Strive Anytime Fitness, which includes all individual fitness activities), and 15 percent to meal functions and networking. This “balancing act” is not unlike time management for everyday life, when wellness is among the priorities. C&IT

Back To Top