by Leo Jakobson | March 31, 2017
Incorporating wellness and sustainability into incentive travel, meetings, and events is very important to many companies, but not nearly as many are willing to back that up with budget dollars.

That is one key conclusion from a study and accompanying white paper released this week by the Incentive Research Foundation. The white paper, "Spanning the Wellness Divide: From Interest to Action in Meeting and Incentive Travel Wellness," offers a number of useful suggestions on the most effective and cost-effective wellness strategies, as well as food and beverage choices, that incentive and event planners are using today. It goes on to suggest best practices for making these strategies more effective.

"Each year companies in the United States invest billions of dollars to both help their employees get healthier and additional billions to help them meet face to face," said Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF. "The research featured in "The IRF Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study" leads us to question how integrated these efforts within organizations are -- and what the meetings and incentives industry could do to create better synergies."

The wellness study took place last November, receiving 143 responses, 109 from planners and 34 from hoteliers. Of the 109 planners half were worked directly for a company and half from third-party incentive and meeting planning firms.

One interesting result is a disconnect between planners and hoteliers on how healthy their meetings are currently, and how much better that could get with an increased budget.

Overall, 59 percent of the planners said their current meetings were either mostly or somewhat healthy, compared to 70 percent of hoteliers. Yet with an increased budget, more than three quarters -- 76 percent -- of planners said their events could meet those wellness standards, while only 72 percent of hoteliers said the same thing.

Looking just at corporate incentive travel, event, and meeting planners, nearly nine out of 10 (87 percent) say wellness is a "critical focus" for their company, and 71 percent say their company has an employee wellness program in place. Yet just 55 percent say their company is willing to increase budgets to pay for it, and 49 percent say their company asks hoteliers, incentive companies, and other suppliers to recommend budget strategies to support healthy meetings.

The third-party incentive, meeting, and event planners who responded to the survey paint a somewhat different picture, with exactly three quarters strongly or somewhat agreeing that the inclusion of wellness a critical focus for clients, and 51 percent saying companies will provide money to support the inclusion of wellness.

It's worth noting that those numbers are all for respondents who said they either "strongly" or "somewhat" agree about how important these issues are to their companies, and to what extent they are willing to put their money where their mouths are. Looking at just "strongly agree" the numbers drop precipitously -- for example, the number of corporate planners who say wellness is a "critical focus" for their company drops to 47 percent, while just 15 percent say that focus is backed up with funding.