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Incorporating Wellness Into Your Meeting on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel
Danielle LeBreck and Jill Vance, the director of sales for The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, discuss how you can incorporate wellness into your meetings. Plus, why The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel is an ideal destination for attendees seeking both an inspiring destination to work, and one that can contribute to their wellbeing. Listen now.
This podcast is brought to you in partnership with The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel
Danielle LeBreck: Welcome to the Meetings Today podcast. I’m Danielle LeBreck. Today we will be covering wellness. This idea of wellness has been brought to the forefront in the meetings and events industry more than ever in the past year because of COVID-19. And not just in a physical way, but in a mental and emotional way too. Now, as we look forward to meetings, hopefully later this year, and in the coming years, how will overall wellness factor into meeting planners’ decisions and what destinations are built to address this need?
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel is one such destination. Here to talk to us today about this wellness idea and how you can incorporate it seamlessly into your meetings and events is Jill Vance, who is the director of sales for The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. From its natural surroundings to its many unique activities, this destination has a lot to offer in terms of wellness, and we are going to talk about it all. I’m excited to dig in. Thank you so much for joining me today, Jill.
Jill Vance: Thanks, Danielle. It’s my pleasure.
Danielle: So first off, let's talk about The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. How does this destination naturally lend itself to enhance the overall wellness of meetings and the wellness of the attendees?
Jill: Well, I think a beautiful natural setting like The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel can really go a long way in improving the attendee experience, even during a pandemic. Although masks and social distancing still make sense, the consensus is that holding meetings or activities outside is less risky than indoors because, of course, the natural air circulation outside.
And for listeners who don't know, we are located in Southwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Our destination includes more than 100 islands plus natural environments like mangrove forests, peaceful waterways and over 50 miles of pristine white-sand beaches. As far as the weather goes, our average temperature is about 85 degrees, and our average low is around 65. And since we are a coastal community, even in the height of our summer season, there’s a Gulf breeze that moderates the temperatures.
One wellness advantage of being on the coast is that we all benefit from the powerful, calming effect of the beautiful Gulf water that surrounds us. If you have ever spent time relaxing on a beach or fishing out on a boat or doing really anything near the water, no doubt you’ve felt the soothing effect that water has. Have you ever felt that, Danielle?
Danielle: Oh absolutely. The waves washing up on the shore is one of the most calming sounds to me.
Jill: I agree. I’ve always gravitated towards water. And science shows that seeing and hearing the soothing sounds of moving water triggers a response in our brains, which makes us relax, like the sound of waves crashing, as you mentioned by the shore, can actually alter your brain’s wave patterns to induce almost a meditative state. All of this can help lower stress levels and promote mental clarity and even increase happiness.
Another way that The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel naturally lends itself to enhance the wellness of meeting attendees is through our abundance of unique natural environments. And a good example of this is J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This is a natural preserve on Sanibel Island, and it is the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the country. And there’s a trend called eco-therapy or also referred to as “forest medicine.” Have you ever heard of this, Danielle?
Danielle: I don't know much about it, no.
Jill: Well, it’s really growing in popularity, and it’s based on research that shows spending time in a natural outdoor environment can be associated with lowering levels of stress, depression, anxiety, even lowering blood pressure, and at the same time improves concentration, memory and overall feelings of wellbeing.
So bottom line, nature has qualities that improves the success of a conference by helping attendees with focus and clarity. And when in a natural setting like The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, you can quiet the mind from all those nonstop emails and looming deadlines. As a result, nature can spark new ideas, new connections and an affinity of inspiration. In fact, a good example of what our natural setting can do is Thomas Edison. He built his winter estate here in Fort Myers in 1885, and he found so much inspiration in the natural beauty here that he wound up with over 1,000 patents on his inventions. To me, that's nature’s inspiration at its best.
Danielle: We know now that The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel offers beautiful natural surroundings that can help increase productivity, mood and those types of things. What are some of the actual venues in your destination that really take advantage of these natural surroundings that meeting planners can look in to?
Jill: We have a lot of hotels, venues and restaurants that already have open-air facilities because of our mild climate of course, and they can accommodate a variety of events. At our hotels with meeting space, there are quite a few outdoor spaces. For instance, the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. They’re located on a full-service marina, and they host outdoor events on their beautiful gazebo lawn, and I love it there. It’s surrounded by towering royal palm trees and it has beautiful coastal views.
Also the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa, they also are waterfront. They offer several outdoor courtyards and pool decks and just a short boat ride away, events can be held on the beach of their private islands. So that’s really unique.
Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa, they too are waterfront, and their outdoor event space includes poolside or a riverside beach. Or you can take your group on a dinner cruise aboard their very own Sanibel Harbour Princess yacht.
We also have a brand-new convention hotel that just opened in downtown Fort Myers. It opened in September, and it’s called the Luminary Hotel and Co., which is part of the Autograph Collection by Marriott. And this hotel has 243 guest rooms. It stands 12 stories tall, and their outdoor spaces include al fresco dining areas at all of their signature restaurants. They have this beautiful rooftop bar with gorgeous views, and a large pool deck all overlooking the waterfront river district of downtown Fort Myers. Also, The Luminary provides all services for the adjacent 42,000-square-foot Caloosa Sound Convention Center and because of the size, it is perfect for social distancing. And coming soon, there will be an outdoor amphitheater where events can be held as well.
Even our inland meeting hotels like the Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites and the Holiday Inn Ft. Myers Airport, they all have gorgeous outdoor patios and courtyards. And of course, meeting attendees will never forget an event on a white-sand beach at one of our beachfront properties such as South Seas Island Resort, which is located on Captiva Island, and another beautiful meeting hotel is Sundial Beach Resort on Sanibel Island. On Fort Myers Beach, there are Diamond Head Beach Resort and Pink Shell Beach Resort just to name a few.
Now some of our unique outdoor venues to consider are the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. So, I just mentioned Thomas Edison, but also Henry Ford. They both made their winter homes in Fort Myers building estates not only for their leisure time, but for their experiments. And the property has tropical gardens and laboratories and a museum that’s filled with artifacts, inventions and special exhibits. And they offer group tours of the grounds and it's really a perfect venue for outdoor events or receptions.
Another unique venue with a wellness and sustainability focus is where you can hand feed a goat at ECHO Global Farm. “ECHO” stands for Educational Concern for Hunger Organization. And what it does, it gathers solutions from around the world that are solving world hunger problems, and then they disseminate them into their network. And the ECHO Global Farm Tour, which is in North Fort Myers, was recently named as one of the top tours in the country for its unique experiences and charitable efforts. It even includes hand feeding a goat. The farm actually highlights the difficult farming and gardening conditions and extreme climates, and then they demonstrate other ways to produce food in these harsh conditions. So, in addition to open-air facilities to host your event, groups can walk through a series of lush gardens and have a chance to taste a variety of rare and nutritious plants. And the last time I was there, I ate a berry that tastes exactly like peanut butter and it was delicious. I wish all food all fruits and vegetables could taste like that.
Danielle: That is so unique.
Jill: It was amazing. I don’t remember what it was called but it was good. Another unique venue with a wellness sustainability focus is Shangri-La Springs, and that’s located in Bonita Springs, and it features their Harvest and Wisdom restaurant, which is an authentic farm-to-fork experience. Between 80% to 90% of the ingredients used in this organic restaurant, they’re all grown on site. And garden tours can be arranged for groups to learn about the unique produce and flowers grown there. When I was there, I ate a flower, and it was a cranberry hibiscus flower. It has a tart, acidic taste. And the chef there told me that it can be used in salads or stir fries.
Danielle: That's awesome. I just love visiting new places and trying the local foods. So that’s really cool that so many of their ingredients are made on site.
Jill: Yes. And you have to be a little adventurous to try some of the leaves and plants. It was good. Another venue that takes advantage of its natural surroundings will also immerse you in arts and culture. The Mound House is a great place for an open-air event and it’s located on Fort Myers Beach, and the Mound House was built on a 2,000-year-old Calusa Indian shell mound. It’s now a museum with Calusa artifacts, interactive exhibits and expansive grounds that make for an unforgettable outdoor event.
Danielle: Your destination sounds like it just has a host of super unique, really amazing outdoor venues that can really help meeting attendees experience the destination and all it has to offer. Let’s move on to wellness activities. Things like yoga have been trending for a few years, planners working activities like that into the meeting agenda. But I think we’re finding that there are a variety of wellness breaks that you can add to the agenda to manage attendee stress and avoid burnout, especially in these really stressful times. What are some unique activities that your destination offers?
Jill: Well, let me start with a few wellness breaks some of our hotels are offering as either an alternative or in addition to your mid-morning or afternoon break. You can have an instructor come in and lead your attendees through chair yoga or laughter yoga, or even through a deep breathing meditation exercise, which will help with stress. And then the Westin Cape Coral Resort, in particular, they have some unique wellness offerings for attendees, such as a superfoods specialty menu that includes a fresh juicery with high nutrient juices and smoothies that not only will give you energy but it’ll boost your immune system. Also, Run Westin is a program in which they offer three- and five-mile running maps, which you can run the course individually or your attendees can even join their run concierge for a group run.
And this is really unique. The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort now offers a walking meeting, where you conduct the meeting while walking on their boardwalk nature trails through a really peaceful and beautiful mangrove forest.
Some unique outdoor activities that are often used for teambuilding. You can kayak on the Great Calusa Blueway, which is 190-mile paddling trail. And it’s through our back bay waters and it’s nice because it accommodates most levels of physical ability. So just about everyone can participate. And it’s a great way to get exercise and enjoy the beauty of nature.
You can avoid employee burnout with Lagerhead Cycleboats and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a really fun way to get out on the water and get some exercise at the same time. And this is a 25-foot catamaran-style boat and it’s propelled through the water by your group. Attendees will use bicycle-style pedal stations that are positioned around what is a table but really could be a bar. The cruise offers optional stops at coastal points of interest, and even dockside restaurants.
Also, you mentioned yoga earlier, Danielle. Well, we have beach yoga, and in my opinion, there’s no better way to stretch your body and clear your mind than with a group session at sunrise on one of our white-sand beaches. It’s really a great way to start the day. And I know most people have heard of goat yoga which we have. But we take it to the next level with flamingo yoga, which is offered at the Everglades Wonder Gardens, where pink flamingos will stroll through the gardens and among the yoga mats as the attendees decompress at a peaceful yoga class. And finally, for those who want to improve strength and balance, we have the stand-up paddleboard yoga which requires a little more physical ability. But these classes often take place in a secluded natural setting where a manatee and dolphin may swim by, which makes for a very relaxing test of endurance.
There are also sailing courses for groups such as Offshore Sailing School, and really what better way to socialize and build teams than to figure out how to sail a sailboat? You can spend an afternoon on the Gulf and get to know each other while at the same time learning a thing or two about sailing with experienced instructors. And you can even have a friendly competition.
Speaking of boats, we also have eco tours, which are a great way to connect with nature. A guide can take your group to one of our wildlife reserves where you'll enjoy the serenity of nature and also see the animals unique to our area, like I just mentioned, the manatee, which is one of the Gulf’s most iconic and friendliest animals. And most people never forget their first experience they have with these gentle giants. You may also encounter dolphins. Pine Island Sound has one of the largest populations of bottlenose dolphin in the world.
An activity that can improve mental health is volunteering and giving back—also known as a CSR activity—where attendees can feel what’s often called the “helper’s high,” and a great way to do this is through our Conservation 2020 program. This program is a Lee County, (which is the county we’re in) environmentally sensitive land acquisition to protect our natural assets. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, conservationism is huge here. Our Conservation 2020 manages 50 preserves, totaling over 30,000 acres spread all throughout the county. Yeah, it’s large. And groups can help keep our destination naturally beautiful by volunteering at one of these nature preserves and help with a variety of projects like trail maintenance or recording wildlife or even other special assignments.
Now, many of these activities that I just mentioned, do involve exercise and or observing wildlife in their natural habitat and can have many benefits for both physical and mental health, which is so important right now when many of us are experiencing high levels of stress. I just want to say that even though these activities do take place outdoors, it’s still important to make social distancing and safety a priority and many providers of the activities I just mentioned, have enhanced health and safety measures in place.
Danielle: That’s great. And I just I love the diverse offering of activities in The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. I know personally, I just appreciate being outdoors more than ever and it has been very calming and a nice stress release. I feel like a lot of people feel the same way and you guys have a lot to offer there. So that’s great.
Shifting gears, you touched a little bit on it at the end, but in terms of health and wellness as it relates to the coronavirus: What are some health and sanitation changes that your destination has made in the past year to ensure a safe and healthy environment for meetings?
Jill: Yes, there have been a lot of changes this past year. I’ll start with our airport. Our Southwest Florida International Airport, also known as RSW. They have a program in place called Stay Safe. And they were recently ranked number three on the J.D. Power list of top North American Medium-Sized Airports for traveler satisfaction which included their COVID-19 protocols.
As far as our meeting hotels go, each brand, Danielle, as you probably know, has their own cleaning and safety protocols like Hilton has their Clean Stay program. They’ve teamed up with Lysol and they've also consulted with the Mayo Clinic. And, of course, Hyatt has the Global Care Cleanliness Commitment program. IHG has their Clean Promise program—they’ve teamed up with Ecolab and consulted with the Cleveland Clinic. And Marriott has the Commitment to Clean initiative. They also partner with Ecolab and they’re using hospital-grade disinfectants, electrostatic sprayers and some are even placing disinfectant wipes in the guest rooms.
Some common practices that some of our hotels are doing for meetings are of course giving extensive staff training on COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols along with how to respond swiftly to any reported cases. And I’m sure you’ve seen this, everybody’s seen it out there, that most hotels have installed six-foot distancing floor decals and signs. There are hand sanitation stations throughout the hotels and of course regular sanitizing of high-touch areas.
Some have contactless services like mobile check-in and mobile room keys. Some even have hygiene managers or cleanliness compliance directors to oversee all this. All banquet food is either prepackaged like a grab-and-go situation or breaks and buffets are served by masked, gloved hotel staff behind plexiglass, so they’re very safe.
Meeting space has all been reconfigured to accommodate social distancing with one-way aisles and even directional signage. Also, some have set up live broadcasts in multiple rooms on site for social distancing of larger groups. And they’ve customized audio-visual solutions that accommodate hybrid meetings, which combine in-person and remote capabilities. And finally, many have enhanced their cancellation and attrition policies to make them more COVID friendly.
All this is an example of how our local businesses are taking extra measures to prioritize the cleanliness of your group stay. And for our meeting planners’ convenience, we have this information with links to meeting hotels websites, on our Sun, Sand and Sanitation page of our website, which is FortMyers-SanibelMeetings.com.
Danielle: That’s all great to hear. For those of our listeners who want to go to that page, we’ll also link to the Sun, Sand and Sanitize page in the notes for this podcast. So assuming that this won’t be our last pandemic, though, I really hope it will be for a long time, I think there will be just a heightened awareness about health, safety and wellness for a while and I’m wondering if some of these changes you have just referenced are permanent and how your destination is just thinking about this long term?
Jill: I think we can all agree that the world has permanently changed. And the way we meet has changed. Like hybrid events—they’ve been around for a few years, but their importance has really grown during the pandemic. In fact, our clients are telling us, the pandemic provided the need for their organizations to transition their physical events into digital or hybrid experiences. And the change was made out of necessity, so everyone was quickly forced into this.
However, we’re finding out that there’s quite a few benefits to hybrid meetings like by offering in-person and virtual attendance options, personal boundaries, and safety and even sustainability concerns are being respected and valued. And I really think people appreciate that. Also, you can cast a wider net and larger audiences can be reached through digital platforms. Planners can use the virtual component to collect in-depth data about their attendees, and even increase attendance and ROI through front-end and back-end questionnaires. And what’s really beneficial is sessions are recorded and can be available on demand for review or training purposes.
Some meeting planners told us that they do expect to be planning hybrid events for the foreseeable future. Although hybrid meetings are what I call the “now normal,” with the vaccine presently being administered, no one is really sure what direction that virtual attendance will take in the “next normal.” But most believe, including me, that there will always be a need for in-person meetings, because they’re so important to effective collaboration, networking, and I don't know about you, but I really miss people. Even when live events do return at full capacity, it’s likely that a digital component will continue to be used based on those benefits. There’s a lot of benefits to having that.
Also, it’s my personal opinion that a lot of the cleaning protocols will stay in place because like you said, Danielle, this may not be our last pandemic or maybe COVID-19 will morph into something else—who knows? We don’t know what the future holds. But no matter what tomorrow brings, I can tell you The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel will continue to be nimble and do whatever is necessary to be a great backdrop for your next successful meeting.
Danielle: That’s all great. That’s all the time we have for today. But Jill, I just want to thank you so much for sharing all of this great information about The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, and how it can really contribute to attendee wellness at meetings. I so appreciate your time and insight.
Jill: And thank you.
Danielle: Thanks to all our listeners for tuning in to this episode of the Meetings Today podcast. If you like what you heard and you want to learn more about planning a meeting on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, visit fortmyers-sanibelmeetings.com. Additionally, you can find the transcript to this podcast, photos of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, and more articles about the destination at meetingstoday.com. That’s all for today. Until next time!
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About Our Guest
Jill Vance serves as director of sales for the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau (VCB) in Southwest Florida. She was appointed in 2017. Jill oversees the sales team for the promotion of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel as a travel destination to targeted domestic leisure visitors, business travelers and group conferences. She is responsible for implementing the strategic planning for domestic sales, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the VCB’s local staff and consultants, with offices in Washington, D.C. and the Midwest.
A graduate of Miami University, Jill holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. Jill has spent more than three decades in the hotel tourism industry and has vast experience developing sales and marketing plans and conducting sales training.