Five years ago, Jack Ezon, president of New York-based Ovation Vacations, a luxury leisure travel agency, had a "life-altering experience" consisting of early morning and evening yoga sessions, strenuous daily hikes, and well, "boot camp," for lack of a better description.
Ezon had signed up to be a part of The Ranch at Live Oak, a Malibu, CA-based wellness and fitness program that takes a small group of participants - usually only 8 to 18 - on a weeklong journey emphasizing physical endurance, weight loss, detoxification, and getting back to nature.
Ezon has been a changed man ever since. "It really changed my life," he told Successful Meetings. "I went five years ago, and lost about 50 pounds, and I've still been able to keep it off. It's been a way of life they helped me to adopt."
Since his experience at The Ranch, Ezon ran the New York City Marathon in 2014 and his cholesterol levels dropped nearly 80 percent. "It's been an amazing experience for me since I was there for that week, and even five years later."
That experience, he says, was also "very intense." "It can be a bit extreme. This is not an ordinary spa. This is a boot camp. It's not for everyone."
Today, meeting and incentive attendees can have a similar experience, albeit one that's tailor made for groups. The Ranch at Live Oak now offers a shorter four-day program, called The Ranch 4.0, working in partnership with the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village in Westlake Village, CA, and its on-site California Health and Longevity Institute (CHLI).
The Ranch 4.0 program, while still strenuous, can accommodate larger groups than the traditional Ranch at Live Oak program, and allows for more flexibility in the programming. The group-friendly option can work for groups of up to 200 or 300, transforming the 270-room Four Seasons property into what The Ranch at Live Oak CEO and Founder Alex Glasscock likens to "a true fitness/wellness campus."
Ranch 4.0 participants stay overnight at the Four Seasons, and also enjoy access to its award-winning spa, and enjoy meals prepared by The Ranch's executive chef and the team at the hotel, as well as the CHLI. Cuisine generally consists of garden-grown, organic vegetarian fare designed to provide fuel for the day, while encouraging weight loss.
The appeal of The Ranch 4.0, says Glasscock, is wide. "Wellness travel is catching on," Glasscock says. "For employers or organizations that really value their employees and attendees, to incorporate whatever sessions they need, along with helping employees become more educated about health - and getting measurable results - is really empowering."
Indeed, health- and wellness-minded meetings and incentives continue to grow in popularity. Wellness programs are also catching on in the workplace, and becoming high-tech, too.
Glasscock says his team treats each group uniquely, and works hard to make sure all Ranch 4.0 experiences are tailored specifically to each individual's needs and challenges. "Our staff is very experienced in dealing with all types of personalities and abilities. For the meeting or incentive planners, there's probably a driving reason why they're choosing to do this type of meeting or incentive, and we can tailor it in a way to support that, and support the group. It's just a win-win."
Recently, The Ranch 4.0 hosted an executive retreat for a financial institution that was organized by Ovation Vacations' Ezon. Attendees consisted mostly of young executives and also incorporated business meetings. "The experience itself, and that bonding time they got with their colleagues, I'm told, was one of the most amazing retreats they'd ever done," says Ezon. "It took people outside their comfort zones, and let the partners and executives built personal, deeper relationships than they would ordinarily have. Being stuck together all day and all night pushing yourself to the limits together - just the nature of that breeds camaraderie and creates a bond between you and the group."
Glasscock says another financial company recently included The Ranch at Live Oak in its employee rewards catalog and demand was overwhelming. "We were booked within an hour - we only had 16 slots available," he says. "We had a waitlist of 100 on that first day. It just shows you that people are craving this type of experience. People do want to find out about adopting better health habits and resting and detoxing."
A few miles south of the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, its sister property - the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
- is also offering health-and wellness-minded group activities. One of them includes Helipad Yoga, during which groups of up to 25 each can have a private "yoga in the sky" session on the hotel's 17th-floor helipad.
Previously, the hotel's rooftop had been off limits to guests since its opening in 1987, but it recently opened up for exclusive Helipad Yoga sessions with a debut class conducted on this year's Global Wellness Day on June 13.
From the rooftop, yogis take in views of the Los Angeles, including the iconic Hollywood sign and Downtown L.A., as well as Beverly Hills and Century City. Sunrise and sunset sessions are also encouraged for groups. Classes are led by top West-Coast based yoga instructors.
Additionally, meeting and incentive groups can book group fitness classes with celebrity fitness training company, Blue Clay Fitness, as a part of the Four Seasons Helipad fitness program.
The 285-room hotel also offers a special Wellness Menu for groups, and groups participating in the Helipad fitness program also receive complimentary house-made green juices following their session.