Understanding how valuable SMERF groups can be to destinations, we are going to cover each segment one by one. So for this fourth installment of our SMERF market series, I am going to give careful consideration to the R is for Religious segment. Read the first post here for an introduction to SMERF markets in general and our S is for Social segment. The Religious segment is a large, diverse market all in itself. Considering the variety of faiths, denominations and places of worship, this segment can be a great group to bring to your market. What you offer, outside of hotel and conference room costs, could help position your city as an ideal destination for these religious groups. For starters, think about the experience provided by the attractions your destination has to offer: hub and spoke tours, walking tours, historic sites, volunteer opportunities, outdoor recreation, etc.
Religious organizations create small groups in a variety of ways, often offering options for new members, new moms, women only, men only, college students, and more. So each group may have a different central theme, but they all have the same purpose; nurturing their relationship with their faith, as well as with each other. When targeting these small religious groups, try to focus your efforts within a four-hour driving radius of your destination. This is often considered an easy drive and also justifies staying one night or more in your area. While the main purpose of these trips is often to connect with one another without the distractions of everyday life, religious visitors will still want to explore what you have to offer! So be sure to highlight local restaurants and attractions that are located close by together and would appeal most to small groups. Doing so will give your visitors the freedom to explore and dine at their own pace.
It’s important to note that religious organizations don’t meet exclusively in small groups. Like businesses, they also gather together for large events that require the use of conference centers. To make sure you don’t miss out on these opportunities, contact local religious organizations and discuss the possibility of hosting their conferences and other large events in their home city. A valuable outside resource that specializes in meeting planning for this particular segment is the RCMA - Religious Conference Management Association. Their quarterly magazine can be a helpful tool in your marketing process. In addition to the normal Q&A completed prior to a group’s arrival in your area, preparing questions targeted specifically to a religious conference will go a long way to ensuring a successful event. For example, are there food restrictions due to their religious beliefs? Should the food be blessed, and if so, by whom? If the main focus of the conference is spiritual growth, consider places within your destination where they can go and unplug. And it doesn’t have to be in the middle of the woods. This can be done in a park, a college or university courtyard or sports field, or even in a conference room. If the purpose of the trip is to connect and fellowship with one another, team building is always a great option! A ropes course, for example, is an excellent activity that encourages mutual trust and bonding. Attractions that stimulate discussions, such as museums or historical monuments, are also good ways to encourage connection. And should the group be interested in volunteer opportunities, various options should be made available based on group size.
This is a great 2-for-1, as chaperones generally accompany younger travelers, adding to the diversity of the group. To help plan for their arrival, consider the age range of the visitors. Younger kids tend to have a shorter attention span, so break up a quiet, attention-requiring tour with a fun, physically active excursion. Leave room for snacks or for corralling children who may move at a slower pace. With older students, don’t be afraid to get creative with the schedule! If your destination has backstage or behind-the-scenes tours, request a private showing, and ask the facility for a few extra perks. They are your tourism partners after all. If your destination has an activated downtown, hiking trail or river walk, make a game of it and get the youth involved in a scavenger hunt or “I Spy” challenge. Give away some destination swag for prizes, and you’re soon to have a bunch of little walking billboards. Finding the sweet spot with enough scheduled time and enough free time is key. The bottom line: this group is looking for a fun experience with their peers, which can range from reenactors to nature walks, adventure parks to zoo outings, or even festivals. Kids, they wanna have fun…
FOR THEM ALL
The volunteer component of trips for any of these three group types can be multifaceted, with projects allowing attendees to work directly with local non-profits or engage in on-site projects, such as stuffing backpacks, assembling charitable kits and baskets or even organizing donation drives. Providing a list of volunteer organizations in your community and the main point of contact will help prevent a group from coming to town and duplicating efforts because they were unaware of available opportunities, thus helping to maximize their time and encourage them to return. Just as there are varying levels of sports fans (from selecting the sport itself, to the team, to whether or not they know the roster), there are levels within religious groups. Do yourself a favor, and don’t assume that a religious group coming to your area simply wants to pray in a quiet room and go to bed early. They might be on a mission-like trip to help those in your community or may just be looking for a getaway with their religious network. 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 Fraternal segment of the SMERF market.