In the last couple of years, SMERF (social, military, education, religious, and fraternal) meetings have gotten a lot of attention from CVBs and facilities seeking to offset a drop in other types of meetings business as a result of the economy and security concerns. But too little is known about SMERF meetings in terms of expenditures, revenues, and trends. So Association Meetings conducted a survey of its readers who are SMERF planners. Here are some of the results. For a full report, see the April issue of the magazine.

A majority of respondents reported that revenues, expenditures, and attendance at their largest 2003 event had increased over the previous year. Clearly, this is not a market in contraction. Moreover, a whopping 53 percent of survey respondents said they expected their largest 2004 event would see an attendance increase over 2003; 43 percent thought meeting revenues would increase, and a solid 38 percent expected expenditures to jump as well.

Despite these leaps, only 33 percent thought their meeting budgets would increase over 2003, while 42 percent (the majority of respondents) expected no change from the year before. How to get more bang for their buck is obviously a big priority for a market that’s growing in size but not resources.

A surprising 40 percent of respondents said that their annual event includes an exposition. Net square footage averaged just over 50,000 square feet. Just over 5 percent of respondents said their expositions range from 100,000 to 299,000 net square feet.

More than 44 percent of respondents said that attendance at their largest annual event was under 500, while 36 percent said that attendance ranged from 500 to 3,000. The median was 600 and the mean 1,294, indicating that responses were fairly spread out. [Editor’s note: the mean is the average of all figures, the median is the midpoint. When there is a large disparity between the two numbers, statistically it is best to report the median figure.]

Another area where responses were not clustered concerns the amount of money allocated annually for meetings/expositions. The mean was $950,000 but the median was just $182,758. Indeed, 43 percent said they had less than $100,000 to spend annually, yet 13 percent said they spent from $1 million to $4.99 million annually on their meetings. Clearly, SMERF events span the spectrum.

As for types of facilities used by the SMERF market, this is no longer, if it ever was, a market niche relegated to campgrounds, arenas, and downtown hotels. About 29 percent said they used convention centers, 36 percent conference centers, 32 percent resorts, 65 percent use downtown hotels, 44 percent use suburban hotels, 20 percent use university facilities, and 7 percent arenas/stadiums.

Do SMERF groups meet outside the United States? Among the respondents, 28 percent said yes, and the average number of offshore meetings for this group was two per year.

When asked what their biggest challenges were in the year ahead, overwhelmingly respondents indicated the two "A" words: affordability and attrition. Keeping meetings (especially registration, hotel rooms, and food and beverage) affordable has been the age-old quest of this group. But the relatively new challenges that attrition—because of cheaper room rates being available on the Internet—has caused has made the quest all the more ardent. "We’re just getting our butts kicked by attrition—too many people booking outside the block," wrote one respondent.