Wellness at meetings is trending, and now it has its first seal of approval. The recently created Institute for Healthy Destination Accreditation (IHDA) offers health-science-based certifications to signify that hotels, conference centers, and other venues are “approved healthy destinations.” IHDA considers everything from the room-service menu’s nutritional information to the status of the fitness center to whether soaps and shampoos are hypoallergenic.
“Meeting professionals are being challenged to make sure that when they’re selecting a site, part of the criteria they look at is the destination’s health and wellness amenities,” said Pete Hyland, co-founder and president of IHDA. With the new certification, “meeting professionals can be comfortable knowing that a hotel under consideration has made an investment in providing a healthy experience to their customers.”
IHDA’s designation covers six separate elements: physical, intellectual, emotional, community, environmental, and spiritual. Issues examined might include whether there are gluten-free menu options, walk-in showers and no-slip bathmats, ergonomically correct seating for meetings, on-site defibrillators, staff members trained in CPR, and fitness classes offered, according to Mary Ellen Rose, Ph.D., co-founder and chief science officer of IHDA. Currently 15 hotels have the Approved Healthy Destination designation, which involves a self-reporting questionnaire with around 260 data points and carries a $1,000 membership fee. However, the institute soon will begin offering higher levels of certification — gold, silver, and bronze — costing about $10,000, Rose said, and involving site visits by IHDA evaluators to examine 3,000 data points around health and wellness.
For Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, CSEP, director of education, training, and events for Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit organization focused on environmentally friendly strategies for the health-care sector, such a certification is a boon, particularly because her events are health-related — including Greenhealth’s annual CleanMed Conference & Exposition for hospital professionals.
“This benefits a planner by giving back time it would take to do the homework to verify healthy offerings from each hotel bid during the RFP process,” Abernathy said. “Even if a planner’s meeting isn’t health-centric, there is a movement to provide healthy food and facilities to conference attendees, and this is growing stronger throughout all industries.”
A focus on health can also change the energy and perspective around a meeting, Hyland said. “Research shows that a healthy environment is conducive to a productive meeting,” he said. Likewise, according to the Global Spa and Wellness Summit, wellness tourism was a $495-billion industry in 2013, growing 12 percent from the previous year. It’s clearly an area valued by both leisure travelers and meeting attendees, Rose said. “We need to make our meetings healthier and take better care of the participants,” she said, “but also of the meeting planners themselves.”