A mass exodus pours out of a meeting room, the attendees exhausted after a long day of intense sessions. After a quick change, they head not to the bar or lounge, but the spa. The planner has arranged for half hour massages for all of the attendees, and the group couldn’t be happier, and they feel as if their employer genuinely cares about their well-being.

This scene is becoming a more common trend, as wellness trends shape the meetings and events industry. Globally, wellness is big business. It was a $4.2 trillion market in 2017, growing 6.4 percent annually from 2015, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

Unfortunately, health and wellness practices in meetings fall short of stated company goals, according to a recent study released by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), a private, not-for-profit foundation focused on the global incentive industry.

The IRF 2019 Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel study of 329 meeting planners, which is sponsored by Prevue, a publishing and event company, reveals the disconnect between companies’ stated goals of wellness at meetings. The study found that 64 percent of planners said their meetings are only “somewhat healthy,” 24 percent of meeting planners rated their meetings “mostly” healthy, and 5 percent reported “very healthy.”

If wellness goals are anticipated, why and how are they not able to be met? “Meetings and incentive travel need to be designed to be healthier, and most health and wellness practices have a low impact on the budget,” said IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. “The ‘IRF 2019 Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study’ identifies health and wellness practices that are implemented with greater frequency and that have the most significant impact.”

Key Findings

Of the 26 wellness practices outlined in the study, the only standard procedures that rank above 50 percent involve smoke-free facilities and offering water and reduced-calorie drinks at events.

Researchers found that only nine of the 26 wellness practices studied would require additional funds.

Emerging healthy practices include serving fish, chicken, or lean meats; healthy snacks like fruit and nuts; and gluten-free options. Others include providing free access to a fitness facility and encouraging movement throughout the program.

Healthy food and beverage (33 percent) and group exercise (25 percent) were ranked as the most impactful wellness practices.

Fifty-six percent of meeting planners polled said the stress of planning harms their lives, and they use wellness strategies to manage this stress. One planner said it is important to have a, “Put your own life jacket on first mindset.” Another echoed saying, “If I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t take care of my client and my groups.”

A focus on wellness is vital to meeting planners, one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S. How do they combat this?

Half of the respondents exercise while planning or executing meetings, be that walking, using the gym or practicing yoga.

Others said they remain mindful of what they eat, choosing low sodium and low-carb offerings. Another planner said, “Part of my personal wellness plan is that I protect my sleep.” Another respondent added, “I put my sleep into my calendar and bring things to ensure I will have a good night’s sleep like aromatherapy oils and a sound machine.”

Downtime is also necessary, says one planner, who arrives a day early and stays a day late to not only meet with finance execs to go over the bill but to sneak in a spa treatment.

The MOST Effective Healthy Practices, According to Meeting Planners

  • Setting up walking routes throughout the meeting facility or convention center
  • Working with the culinary team on healthy menus that work within a budget. Van Dyke recommends including the nutritional content of each meal you serve. There are sites available that allow you to enter all the ingredients in your dishes and generate nutritional data.
  • Using wellness speakers for sessions, then offering snacks that correlate with the speaker’s message
  • Making a fitness center available to attendees
  • Offering steps/walking competitions

The LEAST Effective Healthy Practices, According to Meeting Planners

  • Restricting F&B options too strenuously such as full vegan or meatless menus or eliminating sweet snacks altogether
  • Offering exercise classes that are too difficult and start too early
  • Offering uncomfortable alternative seating options like beanbags or yoga balls instead of comfortable chairs