They told us that technology would usher in the “era of leisure” and reduced work weeks. They were wrong.
Instead, we have “work faster, harder and never be out of reach – ever.” Work time increasingly encroaches on personal time. And as personal time diminishes, so does time for self-care and wellness. If we don’t work a touch of wellness into corporate culture, we may go without.
Take meetings and conferences. Savvy meeting planners are incorporating wellness components – fitness activities, healthy foods and nature breaks – into programs because they see the long-term value – healthier, happier employees.
Some meeting planners say working wellness into a program begins with the choice of space itself. Let’s start with comfortable beds – a good night’s sleep is, after all, crucial to wellness. Have you ever asked about mattress quality before booking a conference venue? Smoke free hotels, not just smoke-free floors, are now an option.
Venues with outdoor access are increasingly popular. “When choosing a venue we might look for facilities that allow for breaks or meals to be served outside,” says Sally Swinamer, director of conference development for the Strategy Institute. “It’s a good, healthy way to refresh people between sessions.”
Making it easy for participants to maintain personal fitness routines is another nod to wellness. Make sure the schedule allows it, and the facility supports it. Last year Hilton Hotels teamed up with Bally Total Fitness to offer guests a one-on-one fitness option, and Westin Hotels partnered with Reebok to introduce state-of-the-art health club facilities and guestrooms furnished with fitness equipment. Hotels and resorts also offer options such as group yoga sessions, breaks led by accredited fitness instructors, and easy access to hiking and biking trails.
Outdoor activities can be offered to delegates – guided walks, hiking, biking – these activities are more about fresh air, movement and physical activity than athleticism.
A full-service, on-site spa is another relatively new demand, especially now that the spa focus is more wellness than pampering. Even if a spa visit is not being worked into a hosted program, it can be offered as a free-time, own-cost activity. Breton Murphy, of Tourism Whistler, says, “We’re definitely seeing a shift towards more of a wellness attitude from corporate groups, and even the lexicon is shifting.” He points out that “coffee breaks” are now “nutrition breaks,” and “bathroom breaks” are now “bio breaks” to stretch or step outside for a breath of fresh air.
When it comes to food, hotel chefs point out that conference cuisine is very different than it was a few years ago. Breaks are more fresh fruit, nutrition bars and trail mix, less coffee, more tea, spring water and juice. Lunches are lighter with more salads and stir-fries, and more ethnic foods from Asia and the Mediterranean.
At Delta Hotels, there are “energy breaks” with fruit smoothies, dried fruit and nuts, and granola bars. Opus Hotel in Vancouver offers break alternatives – tea, oxygen and guided breathing – designed to increase focus and productivity while promoting relaxation. At the Royal York Hotel, executive chef David Garcelon notes that demand for fish and vegetarian dishes are on the rise. He sees greater interest in flax seed, blueberries and omega 3.
“But,” you say, “how do we justify the expense to the auditor?” These features are increasingly available at government-rate hotels, and facilitate rather than impede productivity.
Wellness is not a luxury. It is a lifestyle that meeting planners will increasingly find in keeping with participants’ needs. Technology may keep us working harder and faster, but a wellness lifestyle may keep us living long enough to enjoy that promised era of leisure – just in case it one day comes our way.
Anne Dimon is a spa and wellness travel journalist, consultant and founder/editor of www.traveltowellness.com.