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Disconnects Abound in IRF’s New Research on Wellness in Meetings

While planners and their employers are pretty gung-ho on wellness initiatives, it appears that sticky buns and stress still abound.

A recent Incentive Research Foundation survey of 109 meeting planners and 34 hoteliers found some interesting disconnects between corporate wellness initiatives and how those initiatives are—or, more likely, are not—being incorporated into meetings.

 The Hotelier/Planner Divide
Standard meetings with no extra budget for a “wellness options” were rated as mostly or very healthy by 70 percent of hoteliers. Only 59 percent of planners said the same, however.

Give planners a little extra budget, however, and the numbers come more in line, with 30 percent of planners and 31 percent of hoteliers saying they could meet the “very healthy” mark, and 46 percent and 41 percent, respectively, saying they could upgrade the meeting to “mostly healthy.” Interestingly, while the “don’t know” percentage stayed the same for hoteliers under both budget scenarios (3 percent), planners went from 1 percent unsure with no extra budget, to 10 percent unsure with the added dollars for wellness options. 

The Corporate Strategy/Corporate Meeting Gap
On a personal level, planners were somewhat to strongly enthusiastic about wellness (90 percent) and sustainability (91 percent), and 87 percent said wellness is a critical focus for their company.

 However, while 71 percent of corporate planners, who comprised 51 percent of the planner respondent pool, said their companies had wellness programs in place, those initiatives often didn’t extend to the ballroom. Less than half said their companies connected those programs to their meeting strategies.

 In addition, just 15 percent included wellness initiatives in their meeting budgets, and 11 percent said their policy requires “well meetings,” strongly emphasizes well meetings, has wellness meeting guidelines, or budgets for sustainability when it comes to meetings. Fifteen percent look to their partners for wellness strategies, and 13 percent rely on partners for meeting sustainability strategies.

Incentive House Stance
Things didn’t turn out much differently on the incentive house and third party planner side. Similar to corporate planners, 97 percent of these professionals report that they are personally enthusiastic about wellness, health, and sustainability, but they don’t see a lot of demand from clients, or efforts from their companies to push clients in this direction. Less than 50 percent connect their corporate wellness initiatives to meeting strategy. 

Areas of Agreement: Low-Hanging Fruit (and Veggies)
Food and beverage is the most common way planners inject health into their meetings. Many provide water and reduced-calorie drinks; healthy snacks of nuts, fruits, and vegetables; meals around chicken, fish, and lean meats; and gluten-free options.

 Only 18 percent of those without extra wellness bucks in their F&B budgets include locally sourced ingredients; 21 percent provide alternatives to traditional deserts; 9 percent use organic ingredients; and 16 percent use whole grains instead of processed foods. However, if they had the budget, many more said they would prefer to include these options.

Other strategies for healthier eating, including reduced plate sizes, nutrition guidelines for attendees, and reusable dishes and flatware, were less popular.

These results reflect the budget-friendliness of the healthy options. Water and reduced-calorie drinks, lean meats, and healthy snacks are easy on the bottom line, whereas gluten-free, locally sourced, and organic options require extra padding in the F&B budget, as could providing nutrition guides for attendees.

 Other popular options:

  • Smoke-free facilities were ranked at the top of wellness-related meeting design elements by 90 percent of respondents.
  • Eighty percent said free access to fitness facilities also was a top-ranked option for adding wellness to their events. Hoever, jam-packed agendas make it difficult to make time available for attendees to take advantage of fitness facilities.
  • Emerging wellness practices include mindfulness breaks or resources, frequent breaks to encourage attendees to move around, and guides to nearby health facilities. Forty-four percent said attendees had access to free fitness activities, such as yoga and hiking.

Not so popular options included organized fitness activities, zero-waste meeting design, and gamification of fitness using a fitness tracker.

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