The SMERFs, a hardy and growing bunch, are travelling Asia for Social, Military, Education, Religious, and Fraternity reasons, offering vast untapped potential for this regions developing and recovering travel markets says Abacus International.Their reasons for travelling are as diverse as war and peace, study and learning, seeking their god or just to catch up with like-minded people, but what they have in common is a will to travel even if times get tough. They do not mind even gathering in non umrah visa services peak times if it will help keep the costs down.They are the SMERFS. No relation to their cuddly namesakes of television fame, they are the resilient groups travelling to and around Asia in their millions for social, military, education or religious reasons, or as part of fraternity groups such as alumni, workplace re unions or special interest groups.Abacus International President and CEO, Mr Don Birch says that despite being budget conscious, the SMERFs collectively form a huge market and have vast untapped potential for developing or recovering Asian travel markets.Abacus International estimates that the SMERF market across Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore alone is worth US$1.
7 billion a year, based on an accepted US formula that the SMERF market is equivalent to about one third of the total meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market.Whereas their better known cousins the MICE are serviced by specialist divisions within major hotel groups, travel agencies and dedicated Government programmes, the SMERFS are often below the radar and therefore harder to measure.They are hardy and budget-conscious travellers which make them ideal for developing or recovering markets or as a complementary segment in peak markets, Mr Birch continued.The SMERFs helped sustain the US hotel and airline industry in the period following the 9/11 terrorist events, and have shown themselves to be very resilient in the face of international in the face of international events, Don Birch said.Who are the SMERFS?The SMERFs are part of a wider trend in the travel market towards more outcome based travel for a purpose other than just to see things, and they’re more prepared than ever to travel abroad to achieve their aims according to Mr Birch. This seemingly diverse group is united by a willingness to travel despite the economic cycle, to go off-peak and even off the beaten track if that is what it takes to track down budget transport and accommodation, Don Birch said.Social travel traverses the fields of sports, special interest, ethnic, talent and dance organizations, with more and more diverse ethnic and professional associations adding to the growth. Examples include women’s groups, volunteer workers and social sports teams travelling domestically or inter country for tournaments.The growing number of car owners joining clubs in Singapore such as BMW.sg, TeamChevy Singapore and the Toyota Club Singapore, are a case in point. Aside from their regular monthly meetings where enthusiasts exchange tips on the technical aspects their cars, these clubs also serve as a rallying point for trips overseas, either to Sepang in Malaysia for a day of track racing or to other regional destinations for leisure trips. Further afield, fans of the Lord of the Rings have travelled to New Zealand in their thousands to experience in person some of the magic of the film.