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Global Wellness Summit shows why a “hybrid” model is a powerful new direction for conferences

In-person delegates at last week’s conference praised the smaller, innovative event with cutting-edge safety measures while virtual attendees lauded the energy that comes with tuning into a real event with interactive sessions allowing their voices to be heard.

MIAMI, FL – The Global Wellness Summit (GWS), the annual gathering of international leaders in the multitrillion-dollar global wellness economy, has received rave reviews for its first-ever hybrid event, which promises to be a new model for conferences. Notable as one of the first US meetings to take place both in person and virtually, the hybrid “Safe Summit” was held at The Breakers Palm Beach from November 8–11, and attracted 100+ in-person delegates and 500+ highly engaged virtual attendees.

“We knew the only way to host a Summit this year was to create a new model for how a conference can be convened. Safety was paramount, but it in no way impeded social connection or the Summit’s robust agenda – where we were able to mix both in-person and virtual keynotes, panels and brainstorming sessions,” said Nancy Davis, chief creative officer and executive director of the GWS. “Ultimately, I believe this was one of the most important Summits in our 14-year history.”

The Summit’s main stage presentations are also available “on-demand” so delegates and virtual attendees can view them at a later date. Individuals can still register to be part of the Virtual Access Package, which allows access to the videos, as well as the Global Wellness Institute’s landmark report, “Defining the Mental Wellness Economy,” the first research to size and analyze the multi-sector mental wellness market.

The 2020 GWS: a successful case study of how to “reset” meetings in the age of distancing
Like so many conferences in the age of COVID-19, the Summit faced serious challenges: How to convene an in-person event that provided human connection and networking but was as safe as possible – while providing a virtual platform that was less sterile than a placeless “all-Zoom” experience. The solution was a unique hybrid conference, where virtual attendees experienced the dynamism of attending an actual event, as conference producers enabled conversations between in-person delegates and virtual attendees.

“We feel privileged and gratified to have had this second opportunity to be the location of the Global Wellness Summit and to collaborate with their team in staging a successful and safe conference,” said Paul Leone, chief executive officer of The Breakers Palm Beach. “This forum allows us to share inspirational thinking and powerful ideas, accelerating our own momentum to continue our mission of being a purpose-driven organization that is committed to the wellbeing of our team, guests and community.”

The in-person Summit – balancing safety and connection
Every aspect of the conference was designed to create a safe, hygienic way for people to meet, which meant new collaborations with leading health and technology leaders. Richard Carmona, MD, the 17th Surgeon General of the US, served as medical advisor. Delegates experienced a host of cutting-edge technologies to keep them safe: from mandatory COVID-19 testing at check-in provided by Premier Family Health of Palm Beach (all delegates tested negative) to lighting pioneer Healthe deploying their Far-UVC and UVC light technologies in myriad ways to continuously fight airborne and surface-level potential coronaviruses in indoor conference spaces. Delos contributed air purification units for indoor conference and event spaces. All delegates were physically distanced with creative seating arrangements at least six feet apart. (Thanks to Lynne and Victor Brick’s donation of Planet Fitness equipment, delegates could choose a recumbent bike instead of a ballroom chair.) Two podiums were placed at extreme opposites of the stage so speakers could alternate while the podiums were sanitized after each use. All presenters wore masks on stage as well. Fun, however, remained on the agenda, including a “Mask-erade” party featuring socially distanced disco dancing.

Many delegates have written, expressing gratitude for both the safety and human connection. Nikki Miller, director of Kohler Waters Spas, noted, “I’ve just returned home from the most incredible, safe and intimate Summit. This was my first time attending, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about attending due to COVID. But the GWS went above and beyond to keep us safe yet connected emotionally and physically – exactly what we all needed. I met some of the most inspiring wellness leaders that I know will be life-long connections. Thank you for bringing this global group together with confidence, intention and purpose.”

Making a virtual experience come alive
The Summit is a profoundly global organization, each year attracting delegates from 50 nations, and with travel restrictions in place, virtual access was critical. Having attendees tune into the energy of a real conference in a real place, while working to inject as much interactivity as possible between in-person and virtual attendees, overcame the sterility that can happen with an all-Zoom event. Virtual attendees report that they “felt they were there in the room with delegates and speakers and experienced that magical GWS energy” from wherever they logged in.

Prerecorded content meant remote keynotes and panels had no technical glitches, and speakers were then Zoomed into for live Q&As, giving both in-person and online delegates access to the same real-time, interactive discussions. The flexibility of a virtual platform also allowed for surprise “Zoom-ins” with wellness leaders including Arianna Huffington; Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation; Golden Door founder Deborah Szekely; and Six Senses CEO Neil Jacobs. Seamlessly moving between in-person and virtual attendees was the goal: For instance, a “hybrid” lunch hosted for Global Wellness Institute Ambassadors connected both in-person and global virtual attendees.

The leading conference on the business of wellness
Committed to ensuring that the Summit delivered on the business connections that are the hallmark of every Summit (and result in real deals), the GWS created a unique “reverse pitch” presentation, where top investors had two minutes each to tell the in-person and virtual attendees what they are looking for in terms of wellness investments. All attendees were then invited to send their business plans to appropriate investors.

In addition, in-person delegates spent afternoons in breakout sessions collaborating on how to “reset the world with wellness” (the conference theme) and debating the future of diverse wellness markets. To give virtual attendees an analogous experience, Anna Bjurstam, wellness pioneer, Six Senses, and GWS board member, hosted twice-daily, interactive sessions over Zoom, allowing virtual attendees from Singapore to San Francisco to participate in the brainstorming in their own time zones.

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Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.