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Global Wellness Summit 2021—A Hybrid, Healthy Meeting

Delegates were physically distanced at least six feet apart throughout the summit.
Photos: Global Wellness Summit

Prior to COVID-19, meetings and events made up a significant portion of the hospitality industry. According to a 2018 study from the Events Industry Council conducted by Oxford Economics, 1.5 billion people worldwide participated in business events annually with $2.5 trillion in direct and indirect spending as a result of business events and 26 million people with direct or indirect jobs in this industry. The impact of the pandemic has been staggering and has required meeting and event planners to get creative by figuring out ways to continue to host in-person meetings. Recently, the Global Wellness Summit (GWS) navigated such a challenge and hosted a hybrid event that took place Nov. 8 to 11 at The Breakers Palm Beach (FL) and attracted 100-plus in-person and 500-plus virtual attendees.

According to show organizers, the “Safe Summit” was a resounding success and also an ideal model for convening a conference in the age of COVID. “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,” says Nancy Davis, chief creative officer and executive director of the GWS.

In-Person Summit Strategies

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, M.D., the 17th Surgeon General of the U.S., 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 Healthē deploying 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. (A donation of Planet Fitness equipment from the Lynne and Victor Brick Foundation allowed delegates to choose a recumbent bike instead of a ballroom chair if they preferred.) 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.

GWS Day1 25
To remain active during the event, some delegates to choose a recumbent bike instead of a ballroom chair.
GWS Day1 01
Far-UVC and UVC light technologies from Healthē help ensure delegate safety.

According to attendees, these strategies engendered confidence. “This was my first time attending, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about attending due to COVID,” says Nikki Miller, director of Kohler Waters Spa. “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.”

The Virtual Experience

In the previous 13 summits, delegates from 50 nations have attended the event, but travel restrictions prohibited this global influx this year. As such, access was critical, but organizers were keen to avoid what they call the sterility that can happen with an all-Zoom event. 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; Deborah Szekely, founder of Golden Door; and Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses. 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. Numerous delegates reported that the lower cost ($500) for virtual access meant they were able to attend for the first time, and virtual access to the event, which allows access to the videos, as well as the Global Wellness Institute’s landmark report “Defining the Mental Wellness Economy,” is still available.

Agenda Updates

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 the appropriate investors. Additionally, 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, a Six Senses wellness pioneer 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.

Next up will be the 2021 GWS, which will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel, November 15 to 18, ideally implementing lessons and strategies learned from the hybrid 2020 event, which  Davis believes “was one of the most important Summits in our 14-year history.”

About The Author

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures,, E! Online,, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.