SMERF meetings—standing for the social, military, educational, religious and fraternal segments of the industry—continue to be a group revenue backbone for the numerous destinations that have been courting them for decades.

Others learned during the depths of the recession just how valuable and reliable the SMERF market’s business can be.

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Now, increased competition is causing DMOs and others to sharpen their marketing efforts to draw this market—with SMERF planners demonstrating more professionalism as well, and challenging salespeople to step up their games.

Add to these trends a diversifying landscape—the “advanced SMERF” moniker some have dubbed extensions of the traditional market, which can include sporting, special interest and multicultural groups.

Here’s a look at what’s trending in the traditional SMERF sectors, segment by segment.

Social
Destinations with a lot of social business such as weddings report a steady—and, in some cases—robust business. Lifetime events like weddings and family reunions happen no matter what the economy, they report.

Rebecca Miller, wedding specialist for Discover Newport in Rhode Island, says her area’s wedding business has increased in recent years. With popular venues such Newport’s International Tennis Hall of Fame, gilded age mansions, and rugged New England coastal scenery, the party beat carries on.

“On any given weekend April through October, we do between 30 and 50 weddings,” she says. “What has changed is the planning time. Five years ago, the standard was that a couple got engaged for up to two years, and then married. But since 2010, we’ve seen the planning time shorten to six months or less. This can put pressure on their ability to find their venues of choice.”

Some couples, Miller continues, are wising up to Friday night dates instead of the more-expensive Saturday or Sunday times.

There’s greater emphasis today, she says, on elaborate “let-loose” receptions over the marriage ceremonies.

“Food remains a really big deal, and we are doing candy buffets, cupcake bars, and late-night food buffets like mini burgers and fries,” Miller informs. “People spend freely because the events are important to them.”