It’s official – spring is here! With the warmer weather approaching, I am dreaming about those long walks in the park, fresh air and sunlight, and I am completely overcome with positive emotions. It’s little wonder why I am crushing hard for nature. Its health benefits are as old as time and with wellness being the most talked-about trend in the meeting industry, I wanted to explore how integrating nature into meetings and events can boost the overall attendee experience.
A year ago, I planned an incentive trip to Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta, and I am a little embarrassed to admit that I was hesitant to bring them to the mountains and the outdoors. In past years, we had taken this group to major bustling cities across North America. After three days immersed in nature, it was no surprise the attendee feedback was the best we’ve ever had. Activities included snowmobiling, skiing, a sleigh ride, dogsledding and a leisurely tour of Banff.
Harvard physician Dr. Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, explains that nature is like a drop of morphine since it “stimulates reward neurons in your brain…it turns off the sensors that are involved in the body’s natural stress response allowing the higher brain centers to be accessed.” There are endless studies that show spending time in nature can reduce stress, boost energy levels, improve productivity, creativity and improve overall wellbeing and happiness.
“There is an energy that draws people in and because the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is in the heart of Banff National Park. You are surrounded, enveloped and hugged by these mountains which make it the perfect place to recharge,” says Davina Bernard, Director of Wellness at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. She continues to explain that for incentive travel, they’ve done something to be incredibly rewarded and there is no better place to give them a break and rejuvenate them again for their next year of achieving goals. The hotel offers tips on adding nature into your program including mindful hikes, snowshoeing and mindful quotes to put you to bed so you can have an interesting thought as a turn down card. They are currently working on putting together more opportunities for larger groups to add a little side dose of wellness to your program.
What If you can’t bring your attendees to nature? Then bring nature to your attendees! There are simple ways to bring a touch of nature into your urban meetings and events and still reap the benefits. Think about adding strategic décor such as live greenery backdrops, potted plants to dress up the space and natural plant centrepieces to your meal tables. A few ways to do this within budget would be borrowing existing plants from your hotel or venue. Others would include inexpensive options at IKEA or Home Depot or renting from a local garden centre. It’s easy to see why research suggests that adding potted plants to your environment can help boost creativity and attention span.
Even adding pictures of nature, Harvard researchers have found, boosts mental energy. By simply looking at uplifting environments, your attendees can elevate their energy and sharpen their performance. A recent site visit at Hotel X Toronto showcases 1,200 nature photos from Canada’s top landscape photographer Neil Dankoff. Celso Thompson, Director of Sales and Marketing describes the hotel’s concept as all about wellness, nature and the views. Bringing in inspiring photography, he says, creates a calm environment where everyone feels happy.
Another way to bring nature to your meetings is creating a virtual reality room where attendees can take a break, de-stress and be transported virtually to nature. Swedish researcher Matilda van den Bosche stresses her subjects with math tests and simulated job interviews and when they are placed in a virtual forest and singing birds, their heart rates decrease back to normal.
The Global Wellness Institute pegs the global wellness economy at US$3.7 trillion dollars. Long are the days of just incorporating healthy meals, snacks and fitness to your meetings and events (although still very important.) Consider taking it a step further and adding a dose of nature and watch your meeting or event come alive (literally!). Fuel the attendee experience holistically with these simple examples of nature and see the benefits to their energy, performance, stress and wellbeing, which in turn will help meet or exceed your return on objectives.