The travel industry generates over a trillion dollars annually.  We, global travelers, have huge impact on millions of people through our spending whether or not we are conscious of our impact.  The travel industry is generally broken into three segments – business travel, leisure travel, and conventions.  There is a side market, producing nearly $100 million annually called the SMERF market.  No, SMERF is not little blue cartoon characters, but it may as well be because it is not taken seriously at all by the mainstream industry leaders.  SMERF is an acronym for for Social, Military, Education, Religious and Fraternal.  It is comprised of the folks not in the other three categories, people traveling in groups for reasons other than business, vacation or conventions. I think the SMERF market is ignored because it includes so many diverse types of gatherings, none of which are large enough on their own to make a unique category.

In the retreat world, SMERF gatherings are the lifeblood.  In the non-profit world, these groups are the lifeblood.  In the world that connects us to each other, this is our lifeblood.  Events that bring people together for spiritual, family or educational reasons are the programs that stick with us and make us better people.  Ironically, the vast majority of SMERF retreats are held at box hotels, with the same windowless meeting rooms, long hallways of guest rooms and little or no opportunities for fresh air beyond a parking lot.  Properties that would create ideal environment to build community, help us reach our souls and connect us with each other individually rarely succeed in reaching those for whom their facilities were built.  This is because retreats are an afterthought to the primary source of income, summer camp.  Even for properties that run retreats year round, the director is not trained to compete with hoteliers that take most of their business.

We must find ways to connect people with places designed for group bonding.  We must find ways to convince the leaders of these retreat centers that their competition is the business they are NOT getting, instead of the random group they don’t host. Retreats can change the world and we have an obligation to support their import.  It is through these special interactions that the passion to help each other and the bigger world is nurtured and continued.    

So what type of retreat facilities can achieve this?  Summer Camps!  Many summer camp properties are open year round but retreats are not their primary source of income or mission so retreats are an afterthought.   

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By Jaynie Schutlz, Co-Founder, Retreat Central 
Jaynie Schultz created Garrett Creek Ranch with her mother more than 20 years ago. She served as the founding Director of Sales and Marketing and is involved in many non-profit organizations and leadership development programs. 

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