AIM higher

Accredited in Meetings (AIM) provides the meetings industry and its buyers with a universally recognised indicator of quality for meetings space and services.
“Since we introduced AIM in March 2007, we’ve seen the scheme rapidly expand across the industry, receiving great support and feedback from the majority of our members, of which 262 have now gone through the AIM Entry Level,” explains Jane Evans, chief executive of the MIA.

National expansion
“In particular, the most significant achievement to date is the news that VisitBritain has committed to funding 75 per cent of a feasibility study to explore the potential expansion of the scheme on a national level. This is absolutely fantastic news, we are delighted,” Evans adds.
This pledge of support from VisitBritain follows the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s own recommendation that a scheme like AIM be implemented in the UK in the lead up to the London Olympics in 2012.
Joss Croft, head of business visits & events at VisitBritain, commented on the partnership between the MIA and VisitBritain: “The AIM scheme has enjoyed fantastic industry support in its first year of operation and I think that a partnership between AIM and VisitBritain’s own Quality and Business Visits and Events Departments will add a great deal of value to the industry.”

Essential criteria achievement
So what exactly do MIA members need to do to achieve AIM? For the entry level there are three steps to achieve:
Legal Compliance: This is a ten-point code of legal compliance through a self-grading process. For those buyers or other interested parties who wish to see the full code, it’s available from the MIA on request. They include compliance with Health and Safety, Disability Discrimination Act, Data Protection Act, Trade Descriptions Act and Employers Liability Act.
Adherence to MIA CODE: Members must sign a commitment to the MIA CODE, available from the MIA on request. Essentially it is an agreement made by venues to commit to various best practice principles such as keeping terms and conditions simple to understand; to deal professionally with clients, employees and suppliers in open, decent and ethical ways; to have written agreements and contracts; and to confirm facilities are ‘fit for purpose’.
Facilities Grading: Facilities are subjected to 46 self-assessed criteria, which again the MIA makes available for those who wish to access them. Ensuring all AIM criteria are viewable helps ensure the scheme is open, fair and transparent. The Facilities Grading criteria are verified via spot checks that are unannounced, random or following a complaint, and range from cleaning routines and provision of guest supplies, to lighting, sound, heating and ventilation systems, to redecoration schedules.

Member levels
To qualify for the Entry level, each member must achieve a minimum score of 60 per cent compliance with the Facilities Grading criteria. The Entry level of AIM is annually renewable and all members are expected to produce a portfolio of relevant documentation as evidence to accompany their application.
The Silver and Gold levels require compliance with even more stringent criteria, including BPF Achieving Service Excellence as an additional requirement. As these levels are optional, achievement of them indicates that a Silver or Gold member is prepared to take extra steps and make further commitments, to ensure the quality of service delivered is exceptional.
Silver Membership and Gold Membership require achievement of the same three steps as with Entry Membership (Legal Compliance, Adherence to Meetings CODE, Facilities Grading), with the additional achievement of the fourth step ‘BPF Achieving Service Excellence’.

BPF Achieving Service Excellence
This step of the accreditation has been developed in association with the Best Practice Forum (BPF) – an association that encourages businesses in the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industry – to introduce new ideas and innovation by adopting or adapting best practice.
The criteria for achieving BPF Service Excellence are verified via peer group assessment and include service standards, customer needs analysis, staff training, resources, service delivery, communication, environment, and payment procedures and pricing.
Candidates that achieve Silver Membership will have achieved a score for ‘BPF Achieving Service Excellence’ at 80 per cent for deployment. This level of membership is renewable every two years.
Similarly, candidates wishing to achieve Gold Membership will be required to achieve ‘BPF Achieving Service Excellence’ at 80 per cent for deployment and also for results. This level of membership is assessed externally by independent auditors and is renewable every three years.

Taking the scheme forward
One of the driving forces behind moving the AIM scheme forward in 2008 is the new chair to the association, Nick Milne who took the position at the MIA’s AGM held in March, following three years on the organisation’s council.
Milne, who has previously held positions as general manager of Down Hall Country House Hotel and group operations manager of Veladail Hotels, is one of the longest serving members of the MIA council, where he previously sat as vice chair. Milne heads up the conference operation at Robinson College, Cambridge.
“The MIA has taken enormous steps in the last few years and it’s a really exciting time to be involved,” comments Milne. “The introduction of buyers into our membership and the excellent feedback we’ve had from AIM in its first year, all contribute to my delight in taking on the position of chairman.
Milne explains the MIA’s plans for AIM in 2008: “This year is all about AIM and growth; our advertising campaign for the scheme is to increase awareness among buyers, and we are in the process of conducting a study to determine the feasibility of rolling out the scheme beyond our membership.
“The MIA is continually looking to add value to its members and this is something that is especially close to my heart and I will endeavour to ensure that the MIA remains at the forefront of innovation and value when it comes to its members and the industry as a whole.
“Having spent the last three years on the MIA council I am already strongly involved with the values and objectives of the MIA’s AIM scheme and am committed to see the continual growth of the scheme moving forward,” concludes Milne.

Meet in the Middle
The AIM scheme has received a fantastic reception; now growing to over 150 members. Just one example of the success the scheme has seen is the recent announcement made by Meet in the Middle, the free premier conference and booking venue service for Northamptonshire, who confirmed that all 30 of their members have now signed up to the landmark scheme.
Jules Linnett, sales manager for Meet in the Middle says: “We are delighted that all our members are now going through MIA’s AIM Entry Level.
“With many diverse and unique venues within our consortium, the introduction of AIM is a great indicator and assurance to our buyers. Because of AIM, they know when booking with us that they are choosing a high quality space or service for their meetings and events.”
Meet in the Middle Conference Consortium members include some unique and interesting venues. Its members include Rockingham Castle; built by William the Conqueror, Norman Castle; a 450 year old royal fortress, and Rockingham Speedway; the UK’s only US-style speedway circuit.

QHotels Supports AIM
Another MIA group member, QHotels, has also underlined its belief in the MIA’s AIM accreditation with 76 per cent of its property portfolio already achieving the Accreditation Entry Level; underlining the quality and consistency of the group’s business product.
David Taylor, sales and marketing director of QHotels comments on the outstanding proportion of properties that have achieved the AIM Entry Level: “AIM is a standard that buyers believe in and buy into. We believe our meetings and events product is unrivalled in the market and our high success rate in AIM underlines this.”
The QHotels properties that have achieved AIM Accreditation Entry Level, include Ashford International in Ashford, The Westerwood Nr Glasgow, Aldwark Manor in York, Crewe Hall in Cheshire and Forest Pines in North Lincolnshire.
“QHotels have done a great job in getting so many of its properties accredited and I expect more will follow shortly,” commented Evans. “Having such a high profile brand, and many influential properties supporting the accreditation is important for AIM’s credibility and exposure.”

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