Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

December 22 2014

Your Attendees Are Looking For A Healthy Lifestyle — Is Your Meeting Delivering?

By David McMillin

It’s no secret that the typical conference setting hasn’t always been the most health-conscious environment. From early morning buttery croissants to mid-day cookie breaks to late-night open bars, there have been plenty of obstacles in the way of anyone hoping to eat well and exercise during a three-day meeting.

However, we’ve entered a new era where business travelers are increasingly searching for options to enhance their well-being. From MGM Grand’s Stay Well partnership with the Cleveland Clinic to IHG’s launch of its wellness EVEN brand, more attendees are beginning to expect the ability to stay fit while they’re far from home.

Hoteliers aren’t the only ones toasting to good health. Planners are working to offer positive choices for fitness, too. F&B items are an obvious priority, but Kate Campbell, Director, Global Accounts, Helms Briscoe, says that meeting planners can make a bigger difference than menu adjustments.

“In addition to healthier food and beverage selections, attendees seem to embrace healthy wellness components and activities,” Campbell says. “It really adds a popular dimension to multiple day programs.”

Mike Weil, Vice President, Hall-Erickson, agrees.

“We have had more clients discuss options for a run/walk/exercise component to their events,” Weil says.

Weil recommends tapping into the natural competitive nature of attendees with rewards for most number of steps walked during each day of the conference and medals for organized run/walk events.

Campbell understands how powerful that competitive spirit can be, too. She says one of her clients includes a medical association with attendees who thrive on bragging rights from the walk/run event throughout the remainder of the conference.

Fitness Takes Many Forms

A traditional 5K Run/Walk is always a popular choice, but there are plenty of additional ways to embrace well-being at a meeting. From volleyball tournaments to yoga classes to city bike tours, there is no shortage of exercise offerings for attendees. For participants who are really serious about staying healthy, consider an even bigger challenge. For example, Campbell says Tourism Vancouver recently invited her and a group of meeting planners to run the SeaWheeze lululemon Half Marathon in the city. The 13.1-mile course challenged meeting planners to reach for new personal goals while helping them understand the benefits of bringing their own attendees to Vancouver and incorporating an outdoor exercise element.

What’s On The Menu

All attendees may not be ready for record-setting runs, but many of them are focused on making better dietary decisions, and convention centers are taking big steps toward a better F&B experience. For example, at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Executive Chef Blair Rasmussen and his staff take pride in the centre’s scratch kitchen where they serve freshly-caught seafood, locally-grown produce and fairly-traded organic coffee. Hotels have hopped onboard with the trend, too. From The Hermitage Hotel in Nashville’s purchase of a 245-acre farm in Tennessee to the Hyatt Boston Harbor’s pledge to work with local farms, menus across North America are having a better impact on guests’ health while leaving a smaller carbon footprint on the environment.

Making Connections Outside The Cocktail Hour

Will making healthy on-site decisions mean parting ways with bar packages and appetizers? Well, not quite.

“Let’s be honest, workouts are not going to replace happy hours,” Campbell says.

However, Campbell highlights that fitness continues to occupy a space at the top of the to-do list for today’s conference attendees.

“Just as community outreach has taken the front burner, wellness is definitely a sought-after engagement,” Campbell says.

Campbell stresses the importance of balancing celebratory cocktail receptions with opportunities for like-minded attendees to meet in fitness-focused sections of the meeting agenda.

“We all can engage, network and connect in healthy environments as easily as at a bar,” Campbell says. “It’s all about having a balance of both in the program.”

What have you done to embrace a more health-conscious approach to the attendee experience? Go to Catalyst to share your success stories.

This educational article was brought to you by the Vancouver Convention Centre and Tourism Vancouver, two organizations committed to helping meeting professionals plan, design and execute healthy experiences. From running through downtown Vancouver to skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking in beautiful Whistler just 80 miles north, attendees can be adventurous and active in Vancouver. For more on planning a healthy meeting in Vancouver, click here

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