Departments - May/June 2017

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Wellness Included in Meetings, Incentive Travel Programs

By Deborah L. Vence


A new study from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) shows that more meetings and corporate and incentive house planners are integrating wellness into their incentive travel and meetings programs.

This, according to the IRF Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study—conducted in November 2016—that garnered 143 surveys from experienced meeting planners and hoteliers. The study showed the insights and benchmarks for how meeting planners are incorporating wellness into their incentive travel and meetings programs successfully.

However, the study also indicated that there still is a disconnect between an expressed interest in wellness programs and actual implementation.

"Each year companies in the United States invest billions of dollars to both help their employees get healthier and additional billions to help them meet face-to-face," stated IRF President Melissa Van Dyke in a March press release. "The research featured in The IRF Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study leads us to question how integrated these efforts within organizations are, and what the meetings and incentives industry could do to create better synergies."

Though 91 percent of corporate planners agree that they are personally enthusiastic about sustainability, roughly half or less agree that their companies emphasize or budget funds for sustainable meetings.

The study, and its accompanying white paper, "Spanning the Wellness Divide: From Interest to Action in Meeting and Incentive Travel Wellness," provide a detailed look at practices that meeting planners are using to design and implement effective wellness programs.

Key findings from the study include the following:

  • The majority of meetings planners agreed wellness is a critical focus for either their company (87 percent) or their client's company (74 percent).
  • More than 90 percent of corporate and incentive house planners are personally enthusiastic about wellness.
  • Forty percent of meeting planners indicated meetings were "mostly healthy," and 19 percent said they were "very healthy."
  • The top standard preferred food and beverage wellness inclusions for meetings and events were healthy snacks (83 percent), water and reduced calorie drinks (82 percent) and fish, chicken and lean meats (80 percent).
  • Smoke-free facilities (90 percent) and free access to fitness facilities (80 percent) were the top-ranked standard or preferred meeting design elements supporting wellness.
  • Offering water and reduced-calorie drinks as the default (77 percent) had the lowest expected impact on F&B budgets.
  • Emerging wellness practices include "mindfulness breaks or resources" and "guides to nearby health facilities."

Similar to their corporate counterparts, incentive house and meeting company planners personally are committed to wellness and sustainability, according to the study. They do not see a similar level of enthusiasm from their clients, however, nor do their firms take a strong stance in advising their clients on wellness and sustainability in meetings.

When respondents were asked what wellness components, if any, they would like to incorporate in a meeting or event in the future, they stated the following: more/different organized activities, yoga, active break strategies, healthier food, meditation or mindfulness, spa or spa-like activities, fitness facilities and other activities, such as gamification.

When questioned about what food and beverage options they consider when planning meetings, respondents stated vegetarian options (meal salads, veggie trays); better beverages (water, Stevia, organic teas and coffee, soy milk options); high-protein snacks (protein bars, nuts, fruit tray); low calorie, fat, carb content (fat-free, low-fat, low-calorie snacks and foods); better desserts (bite-size desserts, other fruit desserts/parfaits over cakes, pies and cookies).

To boot, other research revealed which wellness components have been the most effective. Respondents indicated the following: organized/encouraged activities (morning and afternoon fit walks, 5ks), yoga/meditation (yoga before a meeting, on the beach, hot yoga, meditation breaks, stretching), healthy eating (vegan foods, vegetarian options), interesting breaks (frequent movement breaks, no seating during breaks).

In the study, hoteliers offered a more positive assessment of how healthy a typical meeting is. More than one-third indicated a standard meeting with no extra budget for wellness option is "very healthy." Meeting planners, however, were more measured in their assessment, with most indicating their typical meetings are either "mostly healthy" or only "somewhat healthy."

Respondents planning meetings for their own firm personally are invested in wellness and sustainability, and report that their companies have wellness programs in place. However, that foundation is not translating to a similar strong focus on wellness and sustainability in meetings, either in design, policy or budgets.