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Rethinking Wellness Activities for Events of the Future

By Maria Lenhart

With the stresses caused by the ongoing pandemic, there’s a growing drive to make wellness a priority. Experts explain how to incorporate wellness activities into events and keep attendees energized, whether remote or in the room. 

No longer relegated to the sidelines or ignored altogether, wellness activities are increasingly a crucial part of the event agenda. Undoubtedly, the pandemic has heightened awareness around the need to incorporate wellness into events, whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid.

In this article, we cover six strategies for designing better wellness activities, with tips on:

1. Partnering with the right venues

2. Catering to the specific needs of the given attendee group

3. Scheduling wellness activities at the optimal time

4. Offering a variety of options to meet different fitness and health needs

5. Adapting wellness activities for virtual and hybrid events

6. Leveraging pre-recorded content for maximum personalization and convenience

 

Choose a Venue Partner that Prioritizes Wellness

Increased demand for wellness at events has not gone unnoticed by hotel companies. It becomes much easier to incorporate wellness activities into the agenda with a venue partner that offers multiple related services.

At Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, for example, wellbeing has become a bigger focus on everything from menus to ergonomic seating and community give-back options, according to Steve Enselein, senior vice president of events.

“We’re never going back to 2019 again,” he said. “Prior to the pandemic, customer advisory boards viewed wellness options as ‘something nice for spouse’ programs. Now they are a central concern. Events are no longer viewed as an opportunity to eat and drink too much. We need to provide experiences that keep attendees at their peak.”

 

Match the Wellness Activities to Professional Needs and Interests

What are the best practices that event managers and their venue partners should follow when incorporating wellness activities into a meeting? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits all solution. What works for one type of group in a certain setting does not work in all scenarios.

Rachael Riggs, wellbeing leader for Maritz Global Events, said it’s important to begin by seeking to understand the demographics, likes, dislikes, and general interests of the particular audience. The wellness experiences should be customized for each group’s needs and desires.

Even groups of similar size cannot be viewed in the same way.

“A small corporate group may have very different needs and wants than even an association board of directors,” Riggs said. “The corporate group comes from the same corporate culture whereas a board of directors comes from many different organizations. It’s the same with a large conference. A group of computer programmers will have different likes than a group of doctors. It is really important to understand the guest.”

Those who spend many hours sitting in front of a computer desk might especially appreciate a simple stretching exercise, while others who work in a hectic environment might enjoy a more introspective meditation session. And sometimes the activity can be designed to complement the best parts of their profession, rather than to compensate for its biggest stresses. Those in creative fields, for example, might prefer a nature photography outing with plenty of opportunities for “forest bathing.”

 

Schedule Exercise and Meditation Activities With Intention

Scheduling wellness activities into the agenda also requires considering the demographics and goals of the program.

“I believe the key is to offer variety and keep it simple,” Riggs said. “Lots of people like to work out first thing in the morning and that is great to offer in the morning, but my suggestion is to not push them on time. Give them time to enjoy the experience and not rush them to the general session. It is okay to start a little later.”

Enselein also believes wellness activities make a good start to the day and should not be rushed. It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise, but can even involve starting off a meeting with a meditative moment to think about the goals for the day, he said.

“It’s very impactful if you ask people to set their intentions at the start of the day. For the next few minutes, let’s think about what we want to accomplish, what we want to contribute. What does success look like to you? It sets the tone for the day.”

                       STEVE ENSELEIN, senior vice president of events, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts

Wellness activities are also a good way to combat the “afternoon slump” that often occurs during meetings, Enseliine added. For this purpose, Hyatt offers a series of short videos developed by wellness experts at the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa that can be used during breaks.

“The videos encourage people to get up and move around, whether they’re in the meeting room or at home during a hybrid event,” he said. “They’re an interlude inside of the meeting, moments of wellbeing.”

Riggs also likes to offer groups wellness opportunities in the afternoon. “End the day’s activities at 4:30 and give them time to exercise before the evening activities,” she said. “It is a great networking and sponsorship opportunity.”

 

Offer a Variety of Options for Different Health and Fitness Needs

When it comes to deciding which types of activities to offer, a variety of fitness levels should be considered and no one should be pressured to participate.

Riggs advocates offering choice and flexibility, citing examples from a recent event. “We designed it so we had lots of wellbeing activity variety,” she said. “We had a running club, walking club, beginner yoga, and intermediate yoga each day of the program. Some people ran one day and the next day they walked. Our bodies change daily and we need to be flexible with our programming to accommodate this.”

Riggs also advises against planning anything that people may find intimidating. “For example, many people like to run, but a 5K can intimidate many. However, a running club indicates it is just a group of people going out for a run together to network and get some exercise together.  It’s less intimidating and more open.”

Enselein noted that gentle activities such as breathing and stretching exercises work well for a variety of fitness levels and can be incorporated into short breaks throughout the day. “Just simple movements for three to five minutes that get the blood flowing,” he said. “People relax and have fun.”

 

Adapt Wellness Activities for Virtual and Hybrid Events

How do wellness activities work in a virtual or hybrid format? Video has enormous potential for reaching remote and live audiences alike, Riggs said, citing the interactive fitness programs offered by Peloton as an example. “They have shown that any exercise experience can be transformed by video.”

But while she believes some activities such as yoga and meditation sessions can work well in either virtual or live settings, she doesn’t think video can replicate the bonding and motivation that participants get while in the same room together.

“I think videos are good, but they can’t replace the human connection,” she said. “However, in today’s world we have to provide ways to take good care of ourselves throughout the day regardless of the setting.”

With the goal of providing live and virtual audiences with a shared experience, Riggs said Maritz Global Events has been working with Heka Health to create a Wellbeing Challenge program designed for hybrid events. It was put into action at the recent PCMA EduCon event. The concept was to gamify participation in a variety of wellness activities aligned with Maritz Global Events’ Five Dimensions of Wellbeing:

1. Personal Wellbeing – Caring for yourself

2. Social Wellbeing – Caring for others

3. Environmental Wellbeing – Caring for the earth

4. Career Wellbeing – Caring for your career

5. Financial Wellbeing – Caring for the financial future of the industry

Activities ranged from getting a massage to “plogging” (picking up litter while jogging). Several activities were also accessible to remote attendees, who could for example watch a variety of wellbeing videos or write a “gratitude journal” entry within the app.

“We designed the experience for both audiences and it was great to see the audiences come together,” Riggs said. “For the live audience, guests were able to participate in the conference activities and earn points. The digital audience had a similar yet a bit different experience.  All were having their eye on the coveted prizes to be won. We had winners from both audiences and it was great for them to share the limelight together.”

 

Learn to Leverage Pre-Recorded Content

Riggs views video as an important tool for group wellness experiences, with clips made available either as pre-recorded broadcasts or on-demand content. At Maritz Global Events, such content is created by working with a Wellbeing Network of product and service providers. The content addresses the Five Dimensions of Wellbeing mentioned above, with categories that include environmental, personal, career, financial, and social wellbeing.

“The goal is to provide a customized experience for our clients and their guests around each of the five dimensions,” Riggs said. “In the area of personal wellbeing, we work with our members to customize a video experience. It is our belief that a customized curated experience is the key to guest satisfaction.”

While there may be a surplus of on-demand wellbeing videos available online, those clips aren’t customized — and they don’t offer the opportunity to create a shared experience among a community of event attendees, whether they’re experiencing it together in real time or sharing stories after watching the content on demand.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Wellness activities at events are a much bigger priority than they were prior to the pandemic. Offering them in the right way is no simple endeavor. Planners need to consider the unique needs of each group, just as they do when determining other aspects of the agenda. A variety of activities geared for various comfort levels should be available. Hotels and other venues need to be flexible partners, incorporating wellness into the overall guest and meeting experience.

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about the author

Maria Lenhart
Maria Lenhart is an award-winning writer and editor specializing in travel and event industry topics.  A former senior editor at Meetings & Conventions and Meetings Today, her work has appeared in Skift, The Meeting Professional, BTN, Travel Market Report, AAA Traveler, Travel+Leisure and many other publications. 
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