By Maura Keller
As meeting and event attendees become more health conscious, crave nutritious foods and request meetings that don’t require sitting for hours at a time, meeting venues and planners alike are working hard to incorporate health and wellness components into their offerings.
According to the recent “Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study” by the Incentive Research Foundation, 87 percent of planners polled said wellness is a critical focus for their company, when planning events and more than 90 percent of corporate planners were “personally enthusiastic about wellness.”
“We’re all becoming more aware of the benefits of eating healthy and being active,” says Alex Mabry, CHSP, meeting planner and director of catering sales at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wis. “A majority of companies are supporting efforts to incorporate wellness in the workplace and they will often carry that into their meetings and retreats.”
Mabry has attended meetings with a group activity or planned “downtime” and has experienced the positive results it offers.
“Taking care of yourself and eating healthy helps create balance and mental clarity; conferences are booked with a purpose or goal in mind,” Mabry says. “Planners offering healthy foods and allowing attendees some time to be active helps everyone to absorb and retain more of the information during the meetings.”
Grand Geneva offers multiple ways for meeting planners to incorporate wellness services into their program agenda. The resort features healthy meal, snack and beverage options and offers multiple group and individual activities.
One of the more popular offerings at Grand Geneva is the resort’s group yoga class. Planners will schedule a pre-meeting class to help attendees wake up, boost energy and maintain focus for the day ahead.
In addition, all guests at Grand Geneva receive access to its state of the art fitness center, which features group exercise studios for yoga, Pilates, spin, a full-size basketball court, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and hiking and biking trails, archery and swimming year-round in indoor and outdoor pools. In addition, there is a 35-foot-tall indoor rock climbing wall with 12 routes ranging from beginner to advance, where climbers of all levels can test their skills and conquer the wall.
The resort’s WELL Spa + Salon offers more than 65 spa and salon services, ranging from soothing massages to stimulating body treatments and advanced aesthetics to sophisticated hair styling, luxurious manicures, pedicures and makeup consultations.
The Adventure Center at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa offers a variety of outdoor activities including mountain biking, disc golf courses, hiking trails, sand volleyball courts, archery, picnic and recreational areas.
Recently Grand Geneva hosted a conference which offered attendees three options for an activity, which they selected during their online registration; a massage/body treatment, golf (that they’d assemble foursomes) and the Grand Race, which is a scavenger hunt that takes place throughout the resort’s 1,300 acres, completing challenges at each stop and collecting clues to find the finish line.
A CONCERTED EFFORT
The hardest part in adding a wellness activity is finding the time to incorporate it into a meeting or event. Part of getting everyone to meet out of the normal office environment is to “hit the reset button” and recharge. Allowing time in the morning or afternoon for attendees to relax at a group yoga/meditation class or a group bike ride helps everyone bond, collaborate and come into the next meeting with their blood pumping and ideas flowing.
“I’ll often have requests for activities but the planners don’t set time aside for the attendees to enjoy and participate in them during the day or evening,” Mabry says. “You have to maintain balance to cultivate productivity; block some time for everyone to get out of their seats.”
Whether it’s an activity they did on property, a seminar they attended on stress relief thru meditation or a fresh and healthy meal they ate, attendees leave feeling energized and take those healthy ideas home or back to the office.
STEPS TO TAKE
Healthy meetings have been a growing trend for years, starting with breaks focused on healthy living. From 15-minute nature hikes to meditation sessions and geocaching, Stacey Lucas, sales manager at Paloma Resort Properties, which manages Geneva National Resort, The Ridge Hotel and The Cove of Lake Geneva, has helped plan healthy breaks and team building activities, with an emphasis on outdoor activities.
“Look for a facility that has ample outdoor space for such activities so that the group can stay on track with meeting schedules while attendees have the opportunity to move about and soak up some Vitamin D—a necessary element for Midwesterners,” Lucas says. “I’ve designed longer breaks where the team creates a healthy meal for the group while receiving an education on food that provides energy and keeps you alert and motivated throughout the day.”
One way that many meeting planners incorporate healthy options into an event is by offering spa treatments to attendees. Spas come in all shapes and sizes–just like those who visit them. Spas also come with different kinds of strengths, such as fitness or pampering, and their styles run the gamut from Spartan and inexpensive to luxurious and high-priced.
A popular spa treatment helping attendees relax and refresh is massage therapy, which has taken the Western world by storm. It may have started as a seemingly fleeting trend for those looking for a periodic escape into the world of pure relaxation, but massage has proven to have serious medicinal power for millions of men, women and yes, even children. This “healing power of touch” can dramatically rejuvenate an individual’s mind, body and spirit by reducing muscle tension, improving joint flexibility, and promoting faster healing, in young and old alike.
Holistic Exercise Programs.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before overworked and over-stressed men and women discovered the power of holistic approaches to reducing stress. As a result, meeting planners are integrating the mind and body into exercise programs to restore equilibrium to their body and eliminate the negative effects of stress. Yoga is popular for people in search of something new. In addition to increasing your concentration and flexibility, yoga offers a sense of well-being, while stretching, toning and increasing muscle endurance.
“We often go ’off menu’ for our clients to jibe with their event theme—including health and wellness,” says Rob Booth, director of sales and events at Paloma Resort Properties. “On-site, groups will often incorporate morning yoga, mid-day stretches and afternoon nature walks into their schedules.”
Some of the more interesting ways to bring wellness to the forefront is to promote a “steps contest” for the meeting, rent exercise balls in lieu of chairs and teach desk exercises that attendees can incorporate when back at the office.
“Our Journeyman Backpacks can be used for the day and include well-curated local itineraries of unique things to see and do in the neighborhood,” says Mary Kruse, director of sales and marketing at the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel. “The hotel also offers bikes to rent and yoga mats in room.”
Choosing a resort town with a lot of fresh air and fun is a great way to incorporate health and wellness components into a meeting. “For activities outside of the meeting, we recommend scavenger hunts, cooking classes—in this case, with a healthy twist—high ropes courses, golf, paddle boarding, and walks around Geneva Lake,” Booth says.
Provide opportunities for people to get up and move before, during and after your meeting. Make physical activity part of your meeting agenda and encourage participation through incentives like gift cards and other take home prizes. Fun runs, scheduled morning and afternoon walks or nature hikes are all creative and fun ways to get your group up and moving.
At the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, groups often gather in a park for team building, walk to the Milwaukee Art Museum along the lake, or kayak on the river.
Meeting planners also are always looking for new ways to offer the sweet treats expected by attendees, while making sure they also have healthy items from which to choose. A “superfoods break” with fresh-made smoothies, super grains and antioxidant shooters is one way to do this.
“Nourish their bodies and minds with foods that will put attendees in the best position to participate fully,” says Harold Samorian, chief member engagement officer at Community Health Charities, who earned a degree in Community Health Education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “Carry this theme through your breaks as well. Food is a great gathering tool and has significant meaning in most cultures. Sharing a meal or snack promotes a deeper level of understanding and creates bonds that will transcend the content of the meeting.”
For clients looking to infuse health and wellness into their events, Booth recommends going natural with food and activities. This can be as simple as substituting granola for cookies and coconut water for soda or creating a smoothie bar break and planning heart-wise meals with the venue’s in-house chef.
“Nutrition is probably the top of the list for us, because most groups are here for an average of two nights,” Kruse says. “Chef Heather Terhune at Tre Rivali has designed an amazing menu with healthy options, low carb, locally sourced, house-made, not processed.”
A creative “healthy eating” teambuilding activity offered at the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel features a nutritionist who hosts a mini break out session, followed by a team building activity whereby attendees split up in small groups and head to the nearby Milwaukee Public Market to shop— competing for healthiest and tastiest break snacks. They then present and vote on best break or picnic foods created by each group.
The room or venue in which a meeting or event is held is also paramount to the health and wellness component of the attendees. Is the room too hot? Is the room too cold? Is there enough light? Extending the overall “environment” of the meeting into sustainable practices like recycling helps attendees to be more attentive to what is going on around them and can carry through to your organizational culture.
Limit Presentation Times.
As Samorian explains, there are varying schools of thought on this but presentations, talks or discussions should be no more than 50 minutes without some type of movement, which should last at least five to 10 minutes.
Giving Back Feels Good.
Business volunteerism, often referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR), can take many forms and it can be a quadruple win. Everyone involved—the organizations that provide the employee volunteers, those where employee volunteers help out, the wider community and the employees themselves—has something to gain. Such efforts offer a lowcost, low-risk, high-impact way of making the knowledge, skills and experiences of the business sector accessible to the nonprofit sector while building understanding, employee skill and community goodwill.
And experts agree that business professionals who volunteer during meetings and events find their experiences inspiring, empowering and sometimes life changing. They are giving the opportunity to practice service and compassion for those who need it most.
“Many groups now perform volunteer activities as part of their meeting,” Samorian says. “The camaraderie, teamwork and sense of purpose are significant ways to unite conference participants and give back to the community. There are a number of groups that can help you with various aspects of your meeting.”
Today, wellness can take many forms. Take time to include different facets of this important concept.