Wellness is key to productive meetings, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are five strategies to think of when offering wellness-enabled meetings.
It goes without saying that scheduling meetings is a significant investment. Whether it’s a corporate meeting where a company foots the bill to transport, house, feed and put on programming for its employees, or a conference where the attendees pay their own way or have to justify the expense to a supervisor sponsoring their attendance, a lot of money is at stake.
And of course, those expenses do not factor in the opportunity cost of the attendees being at the meeting rather than directly driving the bottom line. For these reasons, careful planning is required to ensure that the time spent in meetings and conferences is optimized for attendee productivity and organizer goals, and the resources expended are not squandered.
Unfortunately, the longstanding formula of dark subdivided hotel ballrooms, hours upon hours of sitting still, packed-to-the-gills scheduling, carb-loaded buffets and alcohol-fueled nights is counterproductive. Attendees feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and bleary-eyed and sponsors are left questioning their return on investment. For this reason, sharp meeting planners and corporate clients are increasingly looking for ways to refocus their approach to drive productive meetings.
What they’ve discovered is that the essential ingredient to successful meetings is a wellness-focused approach that emphasizes maximizing the mental and physical of wellbeing of attendees. This insight and approach can help meeting planners develop programs that set them apart from competitors by delivering higher-rated events and help hotel teams develop program structures that drive better client feedback (and repeat business). Of course, there are incremental revenue opportunities layered in as well.
Of course, not every event should be a “wellness meeting,” and mandatory yoga sessions and wheatgrass shots don’t suit all audiences. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. And not every hotel will have the facilities and budget to warrant large-scale investment in wellness enablement. But even baby steps can have an impact, and hotels of all types and price points are wise to consider positioning their meetings platform to accommodate this demand and demonstrate value.
Here are my top five strategies for offering wellness-enabled meetings:
Plan purposefully around food and beverage
Meetings that kick off the day with a continental breakfast buffet laden with muffins, croissants, and bagels inevitably lead to drowsy, unengaged and non-participatory audiences. Heavy lunch buffets have the same effect. Oy! Offering lighter, more healthful options—and offering them more frequently—will keep attendees nourished and energized. Think nuts, fruits, whole grains and menus that emphasize vegetables and non-meat proteins, focusing on quality over quantity. Of course, most clients won’t stomach the idea of eliminating coffee and tea set-ups and carbonated soft drinks. But complementing the traditional spread with smoothies, juices, natural energy drinks and other similar options is an attractive alternative that also wards off the caffeine crash.
Schedule to encourage (and not discourage) physical and mindfulness activity
Brutal schedules with meetings that start at 7:00 a.m. and conclude with dinners that end late at night leave participants exhausted. Encourage setting conference schedules to permit attendees to exercise at what would be normal morning and evening workout hours. Optimize the hotel’s offerings to deal with demand peaks (and drive some incremental revenues!). Develop shorter treatments at hotels with spas, bolster overcrowded fitness centers with ad hoc group classes in alternate spaces or organize group runs.
Smart organizers recognize the law of diminishing returns—that additional time spent listening to presentations or attending meetings does not yield useful results if the audience is exhausted. Instead of moving directly from one session to the next, incorporate time during the day and offer facilities to permit stretching, guided walks, or other low-impact exercise to keep the blood flowing. Mindfulness activities and spaces including guided meditation and quiet lounges and also improve attendees’ performance and well-being. Intersession networking need not only be done at high-top tables or around F&B stations—it can also be done over some basic physical activity that will then revitalize attendees for their next sit-down session.
Windowless ballrooms and extended periods deprived of natural light are a recipe for sluggish crowds. To the extent possible and weather permitting, provide spaces for meeting sessions outdoors or in spaces in the hotel that have access to natural light. Bring the outdoors in with indoor plants and fresh floral arrangements—small budgets here can go a long way. If feasible, ensure that lighting in windowless spaces is as conducive as possible to wellbeing, using LEDs rather than CFL or other fluorescent lighting. Giving attendees access to the outdoors—or replicating that experience—positively affects energy and productivity.
Consider a fresh approach to alcohol
Most companies and conference organizers will still want to have a happy hour or cocktail reception at the end of a long day, but the days of a multi-hour open bar being a key part of every event are in the past. Scheduling shorter time windows where alcohol is the main focus – and featuring other activities as alternatives—reduces the emphasis on consumption. Featuring crafted alcohol-free or low ABV cocktails (and not calling them mocktails!) presents an attractive alternative for the increasing proportion of the population that chooses not to drink. Just how much of presence alcohol has at an event is a company/conference culture question, but the availability of inspired options can go a long way to ensuring that people who don’t drink—or would prefer not to—don’t feel left out, and that those who would consider easing up on the booze have something fun to try.
Position to maximize bleisure extensions
In addition to focusing on attendee well-being during the event, hotels should consider working with organizers to offer pre- and post-event packages to take further advantage of their property’s offerings. With an increasing number of business travelers looking to add leisure elements and extensions to their trips, giving attendees options for ramp-up or wind-down time in conjunction with a meeting or conference is a natural fit.
In conclusion, the demand for wellness-enabled meetings is strong and increasing. Hotels that are only equipped to put on the meetings of the past will be left behind. And meeting planners that neglect to program for wellness are doing their clients a disservice. With the right adjustments, everyone comes out ahead—with increases in organizer and attendee satisfaction and productivity, as well as incremental business for properties and planners that put themselves on the cutting edge.
Adam is the principal of Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, a trusted partner in bringing memorable hospitality brand concepts to life for hotels and other real estate development projects. With over 20 years in the hospitality industry, he has a passion for creating premium, distinctive, and wellness-forward brand concepts and helping non-hospitality wellness companies navigate the complexities of the hotel industry to form partnerships and grow. For more information about Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, visit www.parallaxhospitality.com.
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