Article has been adapted from Meeting Magazines 2017 Article:
Many smaller cities, which may be considered second- or third-tier destinations, can be ideal for military reunions, says Ted Dey, founder of Armed Forces Reunions Inc. in Norfolk, Virginia. He points out that, as is the case with many other SMERF markets, his participants pay their own way, so the lower room rates and other expenses typical of smaller cities can be a plus.
At the same time, another factor adds an interesting dimension for military groups that may be less applicable across the board. “They like to congregate and share stories; they prefer to have function space where they are allowed to provide their own refreshments, including alcohol — which can be problematic,” Dey says.
But a number of other needs are more common across the different types of SMERF organizations. “Cities must have good airport access and attractive day tours, and the hotels must offer good rates and allow groups to provide their own refreshments,” Dey says. Other discounts also are important, he adds, including breaks on standard banquet menus and reduced costs for audio-visual equipment.
Obviously, some locations may be more attractive, or conversely less so, to specific groups depending on how they match with a given group’s interests. Proximity to museums or monuments may be attractive to military associations, for instance. Transportation is another part of the equation, so locations with ready access to interstates and rail or bus transportation is optimum. Having meeting venues, dining options and accommodations within easy walking distance is desirable.
Dey affirms that reunion groups are highly motivated by discounted pricing. “They will alter their dates and arrival/departure pattern to get lower rates,” he says. “And hotels can fill need nights by being flexible with rates.”
Dey recalls a successful meeting at the Hilton Minneapolis Airport where things went very well. There were 400 people in his group, a size larger than the restaurant could handle by serving only off the menu. “At my request the hotel put special lunch and dinner buffets in the restaurant, with reasonable prices inclusive of service charge and tax,” he says. “The wait staff was not overwhelmed and folks could charge to their room and eat quickly.”
To ensure successful meetings, Dey focuses on effective negotiation. “Understand your members’ needs and negotiate everything into the hotel contract upfront, including banquet pricing and all the concessions such as AV discounts or comps,” Dey says. “Also ensure that the restaurant will accommodate by offering special buffets, and remember that groups like breakfast included in the rate.”