In a recent seminar entitled, “Increase ROI by Increasing Wellness,” Dave Stevens, director of global events and field marketing for Alation, spoke of how when one’s mind, body and mental state are in sync with each other, it increases wellness, and when event attendees experience this at a conference or event, ROI can be increased by as much as 30%. That’s a number to which many meeting planners and conference organizers should pay attention.
A significant benefit of introducing wellness programs into events is improving attendees’ experiences by stimulating their mental and physical health. A well-curated wellness program can help motivate, energize and build confidence. Pat Schaumann, manager/consultant, life sciences development, McVeigh Global Meetings & Events, has been involved in the medical meetings and events industry for more than 25 years. One thing she’s learned in the past two years is that employee and attendee well-being has taken on an entirely new meaning. “Attendees have been isolated and less engaged, and returning to normal is going to take time,” she says. “Attendees need to reconnect, and what better way to do that than to offer more personal targeted events to allow them to slowly integrate back into the fold of their peers and to share well-being activities?”
With her dual job as director of programs and operations for the Global Wellness Institute and the Global Wellness Summit, Kendra Kobler sits at the intersection of wellness and hospitality. “I have been on the board of the New York Spa Alliance for five years, and have helped plan and run our annual symposium,” she says. “I now plan all off-stage logistics for the [Global Wellness Institute’s] three-day conference, from event communications to registration to meals and receptions.
Considered the “Davos of Wellness,” the Global Wellness Summit is now recognized as the most important conference in the world on the business of wellness. “Wellness has become even more of a buzzword since the pandemic, and it’s become more urgent than ever to bring together thought leaders into a single space,” Kobler says. “On the main stage and in breakout rooms, our delegates aim to bridge the gaps among the wellness sectors, health care and medicine, and we hope to eradicate preventable disease worldwide — we call it the ‘Wellness Moonshot.’ After the world faced unprecedented shutdowns, leaders in the wellness world are especially eager to travel, meet, mix and mingle again.”
Brittany Smiley, senior director, life sciences, McVeigh Global Meetings & Events, has been in the industry for more than 20 years, and has incorporated wellness events such as 5K runs, morning yoga, cardio kickboxing and hiking within an annual conference, product launch or national sales meeting. “The current wellness trends are focusing more on self-care and living a healthy lifestyle,” she says. “With the onset of COVID-19, wellness events were a priority for daily movement and mental health.”
Coordinated Response on Wellness (CROW) Practice works with meeting and event planners to provide wellness services for virtual, face-to-face or hybrid meetings. The company offers a comprehensive resource for event professionals, offering more than 100 wellness services, from acupressure to Zumba, with more than 500 wellness experts nationwide. “I can think of nothing more fulfilling than bringing genuine healing services to the public, especially our often-overburdened and stressed [attendees],” says Kristine Iverson, president and founder of CROW. “I’ve experienced the benefits of each of our offered wellness services, and have learned to manage and transform the stress of my own busy life through utilizing these skills, practices and opportunities.”
Like many attendees at conventions, Iverson always sought professional challenges in all of her roles, whether in live events or training and HR with various cruise lines around the world. “Our world needs healing. The pandemic and all the related chaos has turned our world upside down — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, every single person on the planet has been impacted,” Iverson says. “For many, this time has brought an awareness of impermanence, releasing attachments and the need for well-being.”
As co-founder and association planner for YardsNearMe, Alex Haley has organized and hosted numerous wellness events. “The wellness industry is one of the essential industries these days, because we have seen the importance of taking care of our well-being as an inevitable part of our lives,” he says. “Therefore, we should frequently organize wellness-focused events in various places across the world. The events can be yoga retreats, meditation retreats, mindfulness summits, campaigns for mental health awareness and others.”
Over the last two years, people have developed the habit of spending more time indoors. The result, according to the experts, is worse physical health. “Therefore, we should encourage attendees to engage in different physical activities as well as spend time in nature,” Haley says. “Wellness events can motivate them to do regular exercise and take care of their overall well-being with the holistic wellness approach. For this purpose, we need to organize wellness retreats to encourage people to take part in these events and boost their well-being with guidance from the wellness experts.”
Heather Larson, CMP, president & CEO of Meet Chicago Northwest, works with 62 hotels in the Chicagoland area, as well as park facilities and a 100,000-sf convention center to arrange meetings and conferences. “We’re seeing a great deal of health and wellness activities being intertwined into the meetings and conventions we are already hosting,” she says. “Obviously, in a post-COVID world that we’re living in, we have groups that are enjoying green space, a little more elbow room and getting out into nature more and taking advantage of what’s outside.”
Team-building events have historically had a wellness theme behind them, but now it’s even more so. “This was a trend that was coming prior to COVID — millennials were asking for more active experiences, they didn’t just want to sit in a ballroom. That’s not what the younger generations are interested in. People want to be healthy, so I think these things are here to stay.”
Sergio Diaz, CEO of Keynote Speakers, books experts and thought leaders at conferences and events, and has seen a rise in people demanding speakers talking about wellness. But that’s nothing new to Diaz, as he spent five years as the publisher for Gaiam, one of the largest health and wellness media companies, which produced its own conferences. So, he attended many events that had a wellness component.
“People are very sick and are tired of listening to doctors tell them to take a drug. People want to start being more responsible for their health and learn from experts,” he says. “Many companies are now taking their employees’ physical and mental health more seriously because of COVID, and because they are seeing how it is impacting their productivity with people leaving or missing work due to stress or getting sick too much.”
For that reason, wellness being incorporated into meetings is more popular than ever. He recently attended the SXSW Wellness Expo, which covered the three keys to health — mind, body and soul. “For an event, the key is to have good interactive workshops that keep employees engaged,” Diaz says. “A good speaker helps, but at these events, it is more about interactivity than listening to a speaker.”
The first step in designing a successful health and wellness event is to understand your audience. “If every year you do outside yoga, perhaps you add something different — change it up and offer tai chi or qi gong,” Iverson says. “We provide our clients with unique well-being experiences — for example, a cacao workshop, honey workshop or a scent fusion station where we combine sight, sound and scent into a sensory experience.”
A typical health and wellness event by CROW Practice includes a customized wellness experience for any group, taking into account the number of participants, needs, time allowed, location and budget. For example, to support physical health, the company can offer a variety of fitness classes — tai chi, chair stretching, yoga, dance, kickboxing or boot camp. “To support physical, emotional and mental health, we offer meditation, mindful art, aromatherapy, chair massage, acupressure and a variety of animal encounters, like goat yoga or puppy playtime,” Iverson says. “In some cities, we offer unique tours that support well-being. We also offer a variety of wellness and mindfulness speakers, including industry leader Deepak Chopra.”
Schaumann’s key to success in planning these health and wellness events is to start small with resources you already have, then think of a theme, timing and prepare a working budget. “Make mental health accessible,” she says. “Get inspiration from your attendees. Use the event as an opportunity to host seminars or training on how to support a co-worker, how to manage stress, or emotional intelligence and its application to the attendee.”
Some basic wellness activities she recommends include meditation for 5 to 10 minutes; bringing in a local chef to train attendees how to cook healthy recipes; planning a group walk or hike around the area; participating in virtual body-weight fitness classes and offering exercises that are generational appropriate. Smiley agrees that the organizer must know the audience and think about the attendees to ensure the maximum attendance. “Add a touch of competition and watch attendees just take off,” she says. “Have a dedicated customer-success team design challenges and programs to meet your goals. Redesign wellness events at your event by engaging expert trainers and include appropriate, measurable challenges.”
In Kobler’s opinion, forward-thinking speakers and cutting-edge content is what helps define wellness at an event. But networking and talking about wellness ideas also helps. “Encourage your attendees to network outside their circle. During the first lunch of our three-day Summit, we facilitate table-topic discussions. Each table has a sign with the topic, and it’s first come, first served,” she says. “It’s a simple way to encourage delegates to follow a passion and make new connections, rather than sitting with their usual posse. We also host a dine-around dinner where we pick several local restaurants for smaller group dinners, and we randomly assign attendees to restaurants to spark new conversations.”
The most popular activity Smiley has encountered is morning yoga. “Typically, the client wants it to take place as close to the sun rising as possible,” she says. “The client would provide branded yoga mats to all participants. Sign-ups would go out for the various sessions, then the event would execute; [and there were] group pictures afterwards.”
At a recent health care association conference, Smiley held a tennis tournament to get attendees active. “The attendance was great and all skill levels participated,” she says. “The association surveyed its membership to determine the activity.”
Meanwhile, her co-worker, Schaumann, planned a hike at a Scottsdale, Arizona resort that had different levels of endurance, calling it a “successful and a wonderful way to network with other attendees, get energized and enjoy the incredible destination.”
Crow Practice recently had a destination management company request 15 concurrent live services, including FIT classes, yoga, meditation, sound healing, aromatherapy, personalized nutrition, smoothie making, Zumba and tarot-card readers at a Central Florida resort. “Participants took advantage of indoor and outdoor scheduled activities, as well as visiting our flow stations to walk up to ongoing activities at their leisure,” Iverson says. “Our clients often tell us how much our health and wellness services helped their participants refresh, revive and reconnect with themselves and each other. For CROW, this is confirmation that we have fulfilled our purpose.”
The 2021 Global Wellness Summit was held in Boston, and wellness professionals from all over the world joined. “As of 2020, the Global Wellness Economy is at $4.4 trillion dollars, and we had representatives from all sectors, including wellness real estate, design and architecture, lifestyle, nutrition and fitness, wellness tourism and hospitality, spa and beauty, mental wellness and many more,” Kobler says. “It was exhilarating to meet in person again.” On top of that, the sponsors led knowledge workshops and provided delightful goodies for all attendees with a health and wellness theme in mind.
Hotels are also getting into the trend. “Conferences being held at our Westin Chicago Northwest have added morning fun runs to their schedules utilizing the green space around their property,” Larson says. Another event incorporated yoga on the lawn for attendees. “It’s not that you’re getting away from the after-hours cocktails period — that’s still something people want to do. But there’s also a big segment of millennials, though it’s not limited to them, who are willing to wake up early and do an elective of sorts that revolves around wellness.”
The pandemic was such a shock to the world and has been a truly painful experience for so many. For the meetings and events industry, almost everything shut down completely, as no one was able to safely gather together. “Some of our largest clients had to lay off many valued employees, and included our mindfulness sessions in their final meetings,” Iverson says. “It was touching for CROW to be thought of as bringing a touch of healing to our clients when they most needed us.”
The International Live Events Association (ILEA) even requested and received free virtual meditations and mindfulness sessions from CROW. “Since events have begun again, we’ve continued to offer virtual, live and hybrid health, and well-being sessions to a vast variety of clients across the U.S. and world,” Iverson says. “We’ve been humbled by the enthusiasm of our clients and pleased to provide them with the best health and well-being services possible, customized for their unique needs.”
The pandemic has had a negative impact on attendees’ sense of safety, wellness and connectivity to peers, and the long-term psychological impact on event attendees has yet to be fully understood. “As planners, we have learned that there is a ‘new normal’ in planning all events,” Schaumann says. “We have also seen that physical activity does more than improve your physical health. It releases endorphins that boost your mood and reduce stress. Hence, our event activities have changed. Planners need to proactively identify their overarching cultural challenges and holistically design support systems that address the specific forms of stress and anxiety their attendees have faced. We have to build a culture of care in a virtual or face-to-face setting.”
That’s why it’s important to focus future meetings on reimagining and innovating events that support the physical and mental well-being of your attendees, in addition to making them feel safe and secure in the environment that you are providing. | AC&F |