Are you a ‘SMERF’?

Published 11:48 pm Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tribune on-line reader Jon asked: “I was trying to get group hotel rates for my organization and was asked if we were “SMURFS?” I thought SMURFS were cute little blue cartoon characters so I said NO? Then they asked if we were MICE. Help me! I am not a Smurf!”

Can I help you? Absolutely! But I must say that the person you spoke with violated one of the basic rules of sales. You must drop the industry jargon and use language and terminology that your customer understands.

I understand these terms but I’m in the business. So I can understand where it would confuse or even insult an industry outsider like you.

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This sales person was trying to establish your travel motivations, needs and expectations. Once these were identified then they would be able to talk about rates, amenities and services that would best fit you and your travelers.

In the hospitality industry SMERF is an acronym for Social, Military, Educational, Religious and Fraternal organizations.

This indicates a market segment that is used for the sales of sleeping and/or banqueting rooms and meeting facilities. So, yes, you’re a SMERF.

SMERFs are outcome based travelers who travel with a purpose in mind – be it a visit to meet with alumni pals or a tour through cultural sites or for a sporting event. SMERFs are willing to travel when times get tough and will even travel in off-peak periods to keep costs low.

For example, SMERFs helped sustain the U.S. hotel and airline industry crash during September 11 and have shown to be very resilient in the face of international disasters.

Many of these travelers spend personal discretionary funds so the SMERF market was severely impacted by the economic downturn but we’re starting to see a recovery.

SMERFs are important to the hotel and meeting facilities but they are one of the smaller group market segments. The MICE market is one of the largest portions of the group sleeping, dining and meeting business.

The MICE acronym refers to the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions side of the hospitality business. These travelers normally have very different motivations, needs and expectations of the SMERF traveler.

MICE types are often on company business and spending the company dollar. The boss says go so you go. Costs and expenses for MICE travelers are frequently non-discretionary expenditures so you tend to see more of them staying in higher end hotels, restaurants, and convention and meeting faculties.

While budgetary concerns are important to businesses and organizations, can you picture the president of Ohio University meeting with prospective OU students and alumni in a New York City Motel 6?

Not really. The Plaza on Central Park is a much better recruiting location. This is one of the reasons that the MICE are lucrative clients. MICE tend to be more of the higher end and upscale business. But sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two categories.

Properties have different rates for the various markets types and segments. So by asking you the SMERF or MICE questions they were attempting to determine what rate you qualified for. Sometimes it is a higher rate or a lower discounted one. It is difficult to predict which rate will be offered.

Whenever I am working on a group or meeting I’ll tell the sales representative that I am a travel agent, tour operator, veteran, civilian, senior citizen, all around good guy or whatever demographic type that it takes to get the most favorable rates.

So yes by using proper industry terminology you’ll make an impact on the rates quoted.

If you don’t feel comfortable in doing that or have doubts about the rates received, seek professional help. A travel agent with group and meeting experience and/or a destination management company can help sort out the web of rates and packages.

Shifting gears…. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that it will require full name (as it appears on their government issued ID), date of birth and gender for all passengers traveling on or after Nov. 1, regardless of when the reservation was booked. Failure to provide this information could result in a reservation being refused by the airline.

Ancient Roman Christian Theologian Saint Augustine quotes “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Be kind to your travel agent and get out of town.