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 military group travel market encompasses events such as military reunions, meetings, and conferences and we have even included a bit on military related leisure travelers. Read time: 5 minutes
Understanding how valuable SMERF groups can be to destinations, we are going to cover each segment one by one. So for this second post of our SMERF market series, I am going to tackle the M is for Military segment. Read the first post here for an introduction to SMERF markets in general and our S is for Social segment. While the military group travel market typically encompasses meetings, conferences and reunions, I've added on a bit to encourage military-related leisure travel. Do keep in mind that most M is for Military SMERF segment business happens in proximity to some sort of military installation. But don’t get discouraged if your DMO isn’t near one - continue reading to find out why.
Military Meetings and Conferences
No matter which branch of the armed forces we are talking about, the military's collaboration with their host community happens often. When it comes to hosting meetings, many military installations have meeting spaces and even temporary housing, but often they must look to community resources to host larger gatherings. This may be due to space limitations and/or because invited civilian colleagues do not have convenient access to the installation. But there are a few things to keep in mind as you work with this segment. INSIDE SCOOP: The Project Officer is often the chair of the planning committee and the one you should try to reach as they coordinate all the details and present the various schedule and pricing options to the decision-maker. PRO TIP: Almost all of the time these events will be planned by someone in the military (or who works for the military), so your familiarity with military time will be appreciated. Meeting at 14:00 anyone? That is 2:00 pm in the DMO world. BONUS: If a high-ranking official says that 300 will be in attendance, 300 will likely be in attendance. (Don’t you wish that sort of confirmed turnout was always the case for all events?!?)
Yes, the war stories and memories, some intense and some lighthearted. But all of those stories and shared moments create a bond that keeps our country’s veterans coming together time and time again.
As veterans plan their reunions they will lean on you for resources and guidance! There are many ways your DMO can aid in the planning process for these groups that, let’s be honest, might need a little more hand-holding than other group travelers. Keep in mind that Korean War, World War II and Vietnam War vets are 65+ years old so your communication must cater to the more mature audience, and accessibility of venues should be an ever-present consideration. In addition to making your phone number and operating hours easy to find, consider developing a section of your website specifically for military reunions. Be sure to feature all historic and military attractions and markers, as well as the locations in your city that offer a military discount on goods or services. These veterans have earned that discount and love to go where their service is appreciated. Other things to consider that will help this segment:
- sample itineraries
- wheelchair accessible locations
- motorcoach accessibility
- transportation company listings
- discount codes and coupons
In a land far, far away from a military installation?
If your destination is not close to a military facility, consider the attractors that you can package for military veterans or active-duty members and their families. Think about your local museums, historical attractions, golf courses, great restaurants, and shopping. These stakeholders could come together to create a Military Appreciation Package – maybe try kicking this effort off as a celebration of Veterans Day Weekend! And keep your eyes open for military-related events happening in your destination - particularly on long weekends. Leverage these to encourage longer hotel stays plus an extra lunch and dinner out, an extra visit to an attraction or maybe even an extra shopping trip! Remember, just like the Social segment, cost is a big factor when it’s decision time as everyone wants to get the biggest bang for their buck. Packaging your attractions is one way to appeal to this group for not only the cost savings but also because of the extended free time they may have on their hands, especially if they are retired or active duty on leave.
All in the Family
Keep in mind that many of these groups will be traveling with their family members. Be sure to include activities that the entire family can participate in so everyone can join in on the fun. Showcase attractions, dining options and shopping as a package to allow these visitors to explore more of the city and even encourage a longer stay or a repeat visit. Don’t forget that the interests for the significant others joining may not always intersect, so include things in your package deals designed to appeal to them as well.
Military in Summary
The SMERF group travel market is very valuable to the tourism industry as they can often bring visitors to your market during the slow times of the week and off-peak travel seasons. The M is for Military SMERF segment is a great group to attract - either for a meeting, reunion or even small groups for "themed" tours or leisure travel. And promoting your destination and its amenities, whether through networking, in print ads, flyers, or on social channels, is worth it to drive the message that the M is for Military segment is welcome in your market. Each SMERF segment brings their own preferences, benefits and challenges, but all of them can create additional occupancy opportunities that can help grow your city’s tourism numbers. Click here to access the next installment in this series when we’ll dig a little deeper into the Education segment of the SMERF market.