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Everyone who’s ever attended a conference knows that feeling around mid-afternoon when your energy crashes and your mental focus starts lagging.
Too much coffee, and too many carb-laden bagels and sugar-loaded croissants are often the culprit. To their credit, hotel and conference centers have evolved a long way toward serving more healthy food and beverage options, but many people still tend to grab the donuts before the bananas due to short-term cravings to alleviate stress and/or boredom.
Today, Hilton Worldwide is unveiling the next iteration of its Meet With Purpose program that includes a series of turnkey food and fitness pairing programs that meeting planners can easily build into their agendas. Hilton launched Meet With Purpose in January 2015 to formalize best practices around meeting more mindfully and responsibly.
In May, Hilton conducted a global survey asking more than 3,000 conference attendees for their opinions about food, fitness, and professional performance over the course of a typical day of meetings.
One in three reported falling asleep or feeling drowsy during conferences, and most said 2-4 p.m. is typically the black hole when productivity wanes. Meanwhile, 9 in 10 people responded that an afternoon walk or stretch can boost energy and focus; 7 in 10 are better able to pay attention when healthy food is available; and about half of those polled said they are not satisfied with their ability to maintain healthy eating habits at meetings.
Based on that input, the new Meet With Purpose programming combines healthy food options and various wellness-oriented, team-building experiences at 40 Hilton properties across the U.S., along with a smattering of international hotels.
They include: Yoga & Yogurt, combining a morning yoga session and yoga/granola breakfast; Flex Power, pairing a 25-minute instructor-led routine focused on posture, breathing and stretching, accompanied by a lean breakfast; and Meditative Moment, including a 10-minute meditation session focused on stress relief, complemented with a lean protein, veggie and/or fruit smoothie.
“The experiential element is key because we know from our post-satisfaction surveys that meeting planners are always looking for ways to bring activity into their programs,” Toni Zoblotsky, director of B2B marketing for Hilton Worldwide, told Skift. “There’s also a strong social component because our meeting guests are more likely to share those types of experiences on their social media networks.”
It’s all too common when business travelers have their best fitness ambitions waylaid by changes to their schedules, foreign time zones, demanding clients, etc. Zoblotsky said that Hilton wants to “force conference attendees to actually use their exercise shoes,” versus just packing them on business trips.
Chef Philip Thompson, executive chef at The Capital Hilton in Washington, DC, has pushed for these types of experiential culinary programs for years. He created a “Cut & Create” event where attendees use garden shears to cut fresh greens from hydroponic planters at their table to make their own salad inside a bento box.
Cut & Create is also part of the expanded Meet With Purpose program.
“In the past, there’s always been a focus on high-sugar, high-fat foods that give you a lot of energy in the short term, but not the long term,” explained Thompson. “Now we’re focusing on superfoods like kale, spinach, and a lot of berries that also give you extra energy, but they’re lighter and healthier. The heavy food is what makes you drowsy.”
He added that Millennial-age attendees are driving the demand for more active experiences integrated into meetings and events. That’s why hotels are going back to buffets and small plates, he said, because no one wants to sit around the same table anymore. With buffet setups, attendees can move around spontaneously, network with different people, and control their own portions.
Looking ahead, Thompson said the next food and beverage trends will revolve around more “hyperlocal ingredients,” in-house gardens, and educational takeaways.
Hilton chefs are now discussing developing gift packages that include a few local ingredients and recipes for dishes served at the hotels. That isn’t necessarily new on an individual hotel basis, but it hasn’t really been successfully scaled across a global hotel portfolio.
“We want people to take this beyond the hotel to their homes,” Thompson suggested. “The challenge from a chef’s perspective, and it’s a good challenge, is pushing ourselves to meet the needs of today’s meetings, because people are so much more aware of food, and they come in with heightened expectations.”
With so much interest in food tourism globally, Hilton has an opportunity here to Bourdain-ify its banquets by building out better storytelling around its chefs and culinary experiences. The interest is certainly there from the client side, and it would give the individual hotels more content for their social channels and digital sales platforms.
So Hilton is pairing its meals with fitness and team-building experiences to try and inject greater energy and focus into meeting sessions. But more research needs to be done on this trend to see if it really makes a meaningful contribution for meeting attendees.
Thompson said he’s game to push things forward. “I think people would like to get home and find a note saying, ‘Here’s how you can make the granola parfait you had at your meeting.’ It’s exciting to think how we can connect with our guests like that.”