The SMERF Market—Give Me an F!
The SMERF market encompasses a range of group travelers that your destination can target marketing towards to ensure a more stable occupancy rate year-round. The fraternal group covers local and national social organizations whose members associate for a mutually beneficial purpose.
Understanding how valuable SMERF groups can be to destinations, we are going to cover each segment one by one. So for this final installment of our SMERF market series, I am going to take a look at the F is for Fraternal segment. Read the first post here for an introduction to SMERF markets in general and our S is for Social segment. The Fraternal market includes not only Greek letter organizations but also organizations such as Rotary, Lions Club and Kiwanis to name a few.
Many of these organizations have local chapters that need a place to hold regular meetings and often need venues to host gatherings such as lunch and learns, banquet dinners and community events. Many of these groups are volunteer organizations, so any help they can get from you is greatly appreciated and will help keep your DMO at the forefront of their mind when it’s time to help host a regional or even national conference. You may want to ask to speak at their next chapter meeting so that you can tell them more about who you are as a DMO and the amenities you have to offer. In addition to giving them your business card, give them a brochure or list of attractions and things to do within the city. You will be surprised by how many people don’t know about the awesome things going on in their own town! Yes, the ultimate role of a DMO is to obtain overnight stays, but sometimes to get to the visitors you have to court your locals.
On the regional level, many local chapters come together for events in one location and this can be a huge opportunity for your DMO. I recently helped plan my sorority’s cluster meeting, and I’m looking to help plan our upcoming Regional Conference. Being a part of the cluster planning showed many of my sorority sisters how helpful the local CVB can be with meeting and conference planning. The CVB put us in touch with local venues and helped us narrow down a more suitable date for our event. The relationships we developed throughout the planning process have been instrumental in the preplanning stages for the upcoming Regional Conference, and we now know exactly who to reach out to for help with planning and executing this conference.
National planning is a numbers game. As membership rates within these organizations grow, possible locations for national meetings are increasingly limited. But if your DMO can handle upwards of 20,000 people (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority brings 20,000 to Atlanta), go for it! Ok…20,000 is a little ambitious, but anything over 7,500 is still a feat, and once booked, being logistically prepared prior to the meeting is critical. Alerting your city that a big organization is coming will allow hotels, restaurants and other vendors time to adequately prepare for a large influx of visitors. Depending on your city’s resources and how far in advance you are able to notify them, you may be able to partner with charter buses or local transportation to help transport attendees to and from the main conference area.
As with most SMERF Segments, the Fraternal group is cost-conscious. They prefer to lock in a low-cost room rate as far in advance as possible. This group meets during various times of the year, so you may want to pitch your shoulder season to them — which is a win for everyone. They get a low rate and you get heads in beds! They will want to iron out all the other details as far in advance as possible. Meet with the planning committee early so you can get your destination’s amenities and attractions out to the attendees prior to their arrival. Ask if they will link to your destination’s website (preferably a landing page so you can track it) or to a PDF listing on their mass email. Another way to get your information out early is to provide single flyers en masse that the planning committee can take back to their chapters and distribute to other members. This helps the organization market the meeting to their members well in advance of the meeting (ideally boosting attendance) and gives attendees time to consider extending the trip by either coming in early or staying late.
Just like the Religious market, this group also looks to take advantage of volunteer opportunities. Working with the planning committee in advance allows for these opportunities to be prepared ahead of time. Some organizations have pre-determined or national service projects or segments, so it may just be a matter of finding out how they can support their chosen service project/s in your city.
Custom Group Outings
In addition to volunteer opportunities, help the planning committee with group outings tailored to their organization. If your DMO has venues that provide behind the scene tours, try to arrange a private tour just for those conference attendees and ask the facility for a few extra perks. Talk with your local restaurants, attractions and shops about a “Show Your Badge” program where conference attendees can get a discount at those designated locations.
Social media usage within Fraternal groups varies depending on the conference and of course the group itself. Some attendees will post and hashtag their way through the entire conference while others may not post at all. As your DMO works with the planning committee, talk to them about creating awareness through official conference hashtags and ask if they will also use or promote your branded DMO hashtag. I have seen both types of hashtags used at several recent conferences and the benefit to both the organization and the city is quite apparent. And don’t forget to ask for testimonials from both the planning committee and attendees! Lastly, ask the planning committee if you can have a moment at the opening of their conference to thank them for choosing your destination. During this time, you can let the attendees know that the DMO has worked hard in conjunction with the Conference Planning Committee to plan and execute a great event and you hope they take in the city and all it has to offer. This personalized touch is a way of building a long-term relationship with the group and laying the roadwork to possible return visits in the future.
SMERF Markets Overview
I hope you have been able to draw some valuable information from this SMERF Market series. I started with an overview of SMERF and S is for Social. I covered M is for Military, E is for Education, R is for Religious, and finally, this F is for Fraternal entry. Please shoot me an email if you would like to comment on any of my entries in this series.