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Creating purpose: Hilton revives meetings with diet & exercise

MCLEAN, VA—Coordinating meetings, conventions and events requires the expertise of professional planners with exceptional foresight to appropriately accommodate the unexpected needs of attendees from all walks of life. One integral aspect of this time-consuming yet necessary process: creating a memorable experience for participants. But, in order to do that, attendees must be awake—and alert— to experience the magic.

In collaboration with Hilton, Rockbridge Associates in May conducted a survey of more than 3,000 people to learn more about the eating and exercise habits of event attendees. Nearly 34% of those surveyed globally reported falling asleep or feeling drowsy during a meeting. Nearly 50% of U.S. survey participants felt the same way.

Additionally, more than 50% of respondents were not satisfied with their ability to stay on track with diet and exercise habits while participating at conferences and meetings.

It was then Hilton knew it was onto something with its Meet with Purpose program. Nearly two years ago, Hilton launched the program, a corporate initiative focused on incorporating health and wellness opportunities into meetings and events for attendees. The hospitality company recently expanded the program, making it readily available to meeting and event professionals in EMEA and the United Arab Emirates, and introducing a diverse set of menus designed by Hilton chefs to appropriately pair food and beverage options with exercise breaks and sustainable solutions in the U.S.

“I believe that Hilton’s main objective with this program is to demonstrate thought leadership to the meeting-planner community,” said Mark Haley, managing partner at The Prism Partnership, a hospitality consulting firm. “By sponsoring the research and then tailoring meeting product to address needs identified in the research, Hilton is tangibly showing the meeting planner that they are the planner’s best friend.”

Hilton’s corporate responsibility strategy, Travel with Purpose, prompted the initial research. The results identified two concentration areas: mindful eating and meeting.

“It was a very broad-brush approach to what Hilton does at scale every day in the conservation space,” said Toni Zoblotsky, Hilton’s director of B2B marketing, in a phone interview with Hotel Business. “Certainly, we talked about lights, paper, waste and things of that nature, but, we also talked about food and, particularly, how we are increasingly starting to source ingredients locally, seasonally, etc. We found out pretty quickly it was that story in particular that our hotels and our planners were most fascinated with.”

Eventually, Hilton added on a third tenet to its Meet with Purpose program: mindful being, a focus on the general wellness of meeting attendees. This aspect incorporates either mentally or physically uplifting activities that are “good for the soul,” Zoblotsky noted.

A component of this new facet included marrying healthy-food options with mood-elevating exercises. The menus, repurposed to reflect more natural, more clean and more protein-intensive options, feature locally and seasonally inspired meals “people would recognize.” For example, a “beautifully executed” yogurt parfait bar paired with a morning yoga session for conference attendees.

“I experienced it myself, in Cleveland, at a conference that was held,” Zoblotsky said. “It was just win, win, win, from beginning to end. For the session, they had hired a local yoga instructor from up the street to do the facilitation. I think we had about 40 people on the lawn. The weather was perfect. After that, we all went and had our yogurt parfait.”

Another example of Hilton’s plans is its Flex Power menu—where attendees participate in a 25-minute, instructor-led routine focused on posture and breathing techniques—before a breakfast of seasonal local whole fruits, whole-grain croissants and steel-cut oats is served.

“There’s no reason to think that you’re going to go to a conference and gain two pounds—not if you’re going to go to a Hilton conference doing Meet with Purpose,” Zoblotsky said.

Today, the menu component of the program is being piloted in more than 40 hotels across the United States. “As a little sidebar, we do let each hotel participating in the pilot change out their protein and their produce, so they can remain local and seasonal,” she said. “We don’t mandate [specific protein and produce]above property.”

These menus are only being piloted in the Americas, at least for now. “Assuming we have a home run, and I think that we do, we’re in the process of pulling metrics on performance as we speak, then we’ll roll it out on a larger scale,” Zoblotsky said.

Hotels can either hire local instructors or fitness trainers for the exercise portions of these menus. Hilton does mandate that all yoga teachers hired be certified, however. Event planners are responsible for paying for fitness instructors. With regard to the menu itself, meeting planners shouldn’t expect any differences in pricing.

“Our menus are at parity with our published menu pricing, so we were very careful to do that,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that it was comparable to the other menus that we’re selling, and I can say with confidence that it is.”

Matthew Marcial, VP of education and events at Meeting Professionals International, a professional membership organization for meeting planners, said programs like the one Hilton is offering positively impacts attendees.

“Planners can make the most of using these types of programs effectively by first educating themselves with the information that is available on the program website and also by asking questions and working closely with their hotel partners to fully understand the resources and support that are available for their group,” he said.

“The underlying message is that booking meetings at Hilton venues will provide the planner’s attendees with leading-edge formatting and structure, thus making the planner look good to the people they are responsible to, by planning and executing a more productive event,” Haley said.

“It’s part of our sales culture that we provide the most hospitable service that we can,” Zoblotsky said. “I feel like our people do cartwheels to make sure that the planners looks like the star, and I feel very confident that we do that very well every day.” HB

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