A SITE Member Insight


Last year’s Incentive Travel Industry Index survey showed that both buyers and DMCs predicted a dramatic increase in the inclusion of ‘wellness’ in future incentive programmes. North American respondents forecasted a 11-18% increase, while European and Asian Pacific respondents anticipated a huge 26-40% growth.

This means that ‘wellness’ is expected to sit in the top 5 inclusions for incentive programmes of the future, alongside other growth areas like CSR and sustainability. Conversely, mandated activities see a massive drop off. Such statistics truly highlight the growing importance of catering to the individual. People no longer expect to be told what to do. Luxury is the ability to choose for yourself as well as feel like you are contributing, both to your own personal wellbeing, as well as to the broader destination and world, through CSR and sustainability.

Given the current health emergency, wellness has been at the forefront of all our minds, and many of us have even started to engage in personal daily wellness activities that we never previously considered. Such good habits are certainly not set to disappear. Before Covid, wellness was already clearly on the rise. With health concerns more centre stage than ever, a discussion on what this means from an incentive perspective is pertinent. 

SITE turned to Diane Alexander from Creative Group to get her insights on the topic. Aside from having a deep personal interest in wellness, as Director of Operations for a top MICE agency, Diane has her finger on the pulse of what clients are looking for and how to produce it.

Wellness - for society and for incentive travel. Image of woman talking a walk in the fresh air.
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Diane, what does ‘Wellness’ mean to you?

Wellness for me incorporates both physical and mental health, each one has a major impact on the other.  I have dealt with both physical and mental health challenges in the past decade and I know that I am at my best when I take care of both.  Wellness requires a fair amount of self-awareness so you can easily identify when you need to take a pause and take care of yourself.  It can be hard to fit it in when our schedules are so full, but it is essential to make the time.

Good practices often start at home and expand outwards… is wellness something you have recently incorporated into your personal life, or have seen internally become more a part of your company in a more conscious or meaningful way? 

I have been making my own wellness a priority for years, so yes I would agree that it starts at home, but our companies also have an important role to play. 

My company has been improving year over year for a while now in encouraging employees to take care of themselves and empowering them to do so.  The most important thing, in my opinion, that a company can do is communicate the importance of wellness to their teams and create an environment where their team members feel that it is acceptable for them to put themselves first when needed.  For so long people have operated with the feeling that they must sacrifice a lot to remain in good standing in their company, and that has really begun to change which I think is excellent. 

More HR teams are providing information for mental health resources that their employees can take advantage of, discounted or subsidised gym memberships and, most importantly, the time to actually use these resources.  It’s time that most people don’t feel that they can commit to, so having an employer encourage them to do so, makes them feel more comfortable putting themselves first without feeling guilty about it.  Not all companies are at this stage yet, but more and more are coming on board which is a wonderful thing.

Do you agree with the predictions that wellness will become an integral part of incentive programmes in the future? – why is that?

We have already seen a growing trend in incorporating wellness breaks into our programs, whether that’s a yoga class on the agenda, healthy food options during meals and breaks, or more free time on a program etc.  I do believe this will continue to grow as a priority as work force demographics change. Younger generations are now more comfortable with making their needs and wellness a priority. 

The stigma of needing to take care of yourself is also being addressed more and it is slowly but surely becoming more acceptable to acknowledge when we need help and to get support without (or with less) judgement.  The global focus on mental health awareness is a massive movement that will surely have an impact on our events in the future which is great!

Do you think Covid-19 will affect this in some way further than would have been the case without it?

Absolutely!  Now that people have had the opportunity to slow down a bit and take a close look at how they were living in a total grind before COVID, I truly believe that many will refuse to return to that pace of life and examine ways to reduce the amount of stress in their lives.

For me personally, I’ve gotten great insight into how the way I lived my life pre-COVID had a negative impact on my health and wellness.  There are parts of that old lifestyle that I do not wish carry on with moving forward and I know that I am not alone in that sentiment.  Despite the very real and serious challenges that quarantine has presented for many, the outcome once we are past this will be a much more health conscious workforce, who will certainly put more effort into ensuring they take better care of themselves.  I do not believe we would have reached this point in society without a global experience like this.

Wellness - for society and for incentive travel. Some healthy cooking surrounded by the beauty of flowers.
Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

“Wellness” is such a broad term. On a practical level, how can it be incorporated into a programme in a meaningful, creative, or destination specific way?

There are so many culturally specific ways that people around the world manage and take care of their personal health.  This is an excellent opportunity for us to expose our participants to new ways of thinking about how to incorporate wellness into their lives.  Whether it’s through local cuisine, customs or spiritual practices, we have so many ways to learn from each other to improve the focus on our health.  This is such a fantastic benefit that we have in our industry – to showcase these things to our participants!

When the time comes for us to travel again, I think it is key that we spend the time with our local partners talking about the local customs for health and wellness that can be incorporated into our programs.  Whether it’s a local speaker addressing the audience in a meeting, or a hosted activity that provides a unique opportunity for our participants to take part in a local custom, there are so many ways we can do this.  It is also incumbent on us to educate our clients on the possibilities and help them understand the benefits of including these types of components in their program agenda.

Who is stimulating the demand for wellness? Is it coming from the corporation directly, or is it coming from the DMCs because they think it’s what the client wants? What does the client really want, from your experience?

So far, in my experience, the demand has been driven by both clients and DMCs.  Some clients are more advanced in their desire to include health and wellness in their programs and our DMC partners have been great at providing options for them to consider.

Conversely, our DMC partners have been really great in the past several years in including health and wellness options in their proposals, even if we don’t ask for them.  I think this is still a new conversation that some companies are not considering yet, and it can be challenging to open their minds to it if they have a formula for their program that has worked for many years. That being said, participant demographics are definitely changing and more and more attendees are looking for these sorts of activities in a program. 

I think that our clients are ready to shift more towards health and wellness and it is our job now to show them how to do it effectively so they get a great return on their investment.  I also believe that now that we’re living with COVID, the focus on health and wellness on a program is going to become a significant consideration in everything we do moving forward.

Is this just a fad? Is there perhaps a risk that it becomes a tickbox inclusion as opposed to something integral?

If this was just a fad before, it certainly isn’t now in a post-COVID world.  The definition of health and wellness has changed by virtue of our experience with this pandemic and people are definitely more aware of the importance of taking care of themselves. In the future I believe that many participants are going to be looking for more wellness activities, more downtime and perhaps less raucous partying than we’ve seen in the past. 

The pandemic has given many of us time to live a quieter lifestyle and I believe that when we return to some semblance of normal, maintaining our health and wellness will be a much bigger priority.  We will see this desire manifest itself in our programs as our attendees look for alternate options of entertainment that leave them feeling fulfilled in different ways than they might have in the past.

Profile photo of Diane Alexander, who talks about wellness - for society and for incentive travel.

Interview with Diane Alexander, Creative Group