The IRF 2019 Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study

5 juin 2019

The IRF’s survey of meeting planners reveals health and wellness practices in meetings fall short of the stated company goals. The majority of respondents (64%) said their meetings are only « somewhat healthy. » Of 26 wellness practices presented in the survey, only two are considered standard: smoke-free facilities and water / reduced-calorie drinks. When these modest ratings are compared to the high enthusiasm expressed by planners and the critical focus planners say their companies place on wellness, a disconnect becomes apparent. Meetings can be designed to be healthier. Most health and wellness practices have a low impact on the budget. Meeting planners reported that only four of the 26 wellness practices tested would require additional expense big enough to require budget approval. There are several emerging healthy practices, including access to a fitness facility, more movement at meetings, and healthier food served at meals and breaks. Many of these emerging trends should become standard practices as meeting planners continue to merge the concepts of wellness and meetings.


The IRF’s web-based survey on the topic of wellness in the meetings and events industry was fielded in December 2018 and January 2019. The survey was distributed to the IRF database, Prevue Magazine subscribers, and members of Meeting Professionals International (MPI). The IRF received 329 usable completed surveys from this pool of experienced planners.

  • 56% of respondents were external meeting planners, such as agencies and third-parties
  • External meeting planners were more likely to plan incentive travel (67%)
  • 44% of respondents were internal meeting planners, working for corporations and associations
  • Internal meeting planners were more likely to plan internal business meetings
  • More than 60% of respondents had more than 15 years of experience
  • 53% of respondents planned eleven or more meetings per year
  • Respondents are responsible for many different sizes of meetings, with a quarter having a largest meeting of 100–499 and another quarter having largest meeting of 500–999
  • 60% of respondents from agencies planned meetings for 101–2,500 attendees


When asked how healthy they would rate their meetings, 64% of respondents said their meetings are only « somewhat » healthy. For those who considered their meetings healthier, only 24% reported « mostly » healthy and 5% reported « very healthy. »

How Healthy Are Meetings Today?

Respondents reviewed 26 well-established healthy practices established by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The majority of meeting planners surveyed indicated only two practices were considered standard and used at all meetings:

  1. No-smoking facilities (65% planners use at all meetings) 
  2. Water/low-calorie drinks (51% of planners use at all meetings)

While the current survey only revealed two standard healthy practices, more are emerging. The advances in health and wellness practices are often driven by the type of meeting. Internal meeting planners are more likely to improve wellness around food and beverage practices, and external planners are making more healthy advances in activities and use of facilities.


Meeting planners reported high rates of personal enthusiasm for health and wellness in their meetings. Perhaps even more importantly, planners reported that their clients and companies would agree « wellness is a critical focus. » Planners noted that their companies demonstrated this value by having wellness programs in place.

However, there appears be a disconnect between the stated wellness programs of the company and implementation of the meeting strategy. External planners reported being more successful at implementation than internal planners did.

External planners report that their clients will accept additional costs to incorporate wellness practices into their meetings. In addition, external meeting planners say their companies:

  • Encourage them to design with an emphasis on health and wellness
  • Provide detailed wellness guidelines for their clients’ meetings
  • Advise clients on budgeting strategies to support healthy meetings



More than 200 planners responded to an open-ended question about the most impactful wellness practices in their experience.

  • Healthy Food and Beverage (recommended by 33% of respondents) 
    « Spa water…the infused waters are easy to change up per day or throughout the day and are relatively inexpensive as the kitchen always has some herb, fruit or citrus on hand. Guests seem to drink more water when it’s infused versus plain »
  • Group Exercise (recommended by 25% of respondents) 
    « Encouraging sunrise exercise before meetings – whether it’s a group class we offer or simply ensuring the hotel fitness center is ready for heavy usage before our meetings begin. »


  • Walking Trails: « Setting up walking ‘trails’ throughout the convention center »
  • Full View: « ‘360 wellness event’- the people just go back home with very good vibes, another chip, and feeling good »
  • Partnering: « Work with the culinary team to stress importance on attainable healthy menus that are cost effective and will work within a budget »
  • Education: « Speakers about wellness, then having snacks afterwards that directly pertain to that speaker »
  • Fitness Center: « Make fitness center available »
  • Gamification: « Steps/walking competitions »
  • Lighting Aromatherapy: « Change in lighting from bright to soft & add aromatherapy in the background… calming or energizing depending upon the need of the event & attending »


Last but certainly not least, meeting planners themselves are stressed. The majority of planners (56%) said the stress of meeting planning has a « strong » or « incredible » impact on their personal life.

Impact of Meeting Planning on Personal Life

The majority of planners agree the stress of meeting planning has a strong or incredible impact on their life.​ ​

To manage the stress and fatigue, meeting planners adopted many healthy practices.


  1. Exercise (50%): Stick to a standard routine, use hotel gym, explore the destination, walk a lot, practice yoga
  2. Eating Well (37%): reduce intake of sugar and sodium, bring your own food, have snacks on hand, eat mindfully
  3. Protecting Sleep (25%): Schedule time to sleep and get as much sleep as possible

Effective Practices:

  • Stay Hydrated/Drink Water: « Drink more water than you think you need »
  • Have a Routine/Plan Ahead: « Bring things from home and a reminder to keep up a healthy routine while traveling »
  • Plan for Down Time or Relaxation: « I always arrive 1 day before … and book myself a reflexology treatment and likewise – I usually stay one day post to meet with Hotel finance to ensure the billing will be correct by the time it comes to me as well to unwind at the spa »
  • Have a Positive Attitude/Be Mindful: « Try to focus on the fact that even with small glitches, things will be ok »
  • Meditation: « Meditation and Soul Mind Body Medicine practices which are based on ancient wisdom and practical techniques from a combination of Western Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture theories, Tao Chi, Qi Gong, Tao Science, Quantum Physics and more which meld science and spirituality. »

Read the complete study by Incentive Research Foundation (IRF)

Image : Unsplash

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