Aim higher

“The industry has fragmented as it has grown over the past two decades,” explains Jane Evans, chief executive, MIA. “Hotels used to be the natural place to hold your meetings, but we now have a larger industry, the choice of event venues now includes stately homes, museums, sports stadiums and universities.”
    
She continues: “For too long many venues have been trying to fit in with accreditations that were originally intended for hotels and the industry has been crying out for an accreditation scheme that took into account its particular dynamics.
    
“MIA’s AIM is relevant, not only to hotels, but to conference centres, all other styles of venue and very importantly, meetings industry suppliers,” concludes Evans.

Simplicity
Now in its ninth month, with 147 members; the most noticeable aspect of the AIM scheme and its success is its simplicity. The scheme is effective because it encourages continuous improvement across thee levels, Entry, Silver and Gold. Achievement of each is dependent on attainment.  
    
The Entry level is compulsory for all MIA members. Current members will begin the accreditation process at the point when their annual membership is due for renewal. New members joining the MIA from now on will be expected to begin the accreditation process immediately. Having AIM as a requirement of MIA membership means that simply being an MIA member demonstrates to buyers that your services have passed a stringent quality assurance accreditation; it’s an additional benefit to MIA membership.
    
The Silver and Gold levels of AIM are optional to MIA members. Achievement of these levels sends a positive signal to potential clients that superior service levels have been achieved.

Essential Criteria Achievement
Legal Compliance
10 Point Code of legal compliance through a self-grading process, this includes compliance with:

  • Health and Safety
  • Disability Discrimination Act
  • Data Protection Act
  • Trade Descriptions Act
  • Employers Liability Act

Adherence to MIA CODE
Members must sign a commitment
to the MIA CODE.

Facilities Grading
Facilities are subjected to 46 self-assessed criteria, which are verified via unannounced, random or following a complaint, spot check visits. The criteria range from cleaning routines and provision of guest supplies, to lighting, sound, heating and ventilation systems, to redecoration schedules.
    
To qualify for the Entry level, each member must achieve a minimum score of 60 per cent compliance. Entry level accreditation is annually renewable and all members will have to produce a portfolio of relevant documentation as evidence to accompany their application.
    
Silver Membership is optional and the first three steps are the same as Entry Membership.  Candidate venues wishing to achieve Silver Membership will be required to achieve the additional step, BPF Achieving Service Excellence at 80 per cent for deployment.
    
Silver Level membership is renewable every two years.

‘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
  • Payment procedures and pricing

Gold Membership is optional and the first three steps are the same as Entry Membership.  Candidate venues wishing to achieve Gold Membership will be required to achieve the additional step, BPF Achieving Service Excellence at 80 per cent for deployment and results.
    
AIM’s Gold level is assessed externally by independent auditors every three years.

Development Process and Pilot Scheme
AIM was in development for over 18 months.  During this time, the accreditation working group, chaired by Nick Milne of Robinson College Cambridge, was formed by the MIA and set to work, conducting a widespread survey of MIA members at meetings and regional events.  These surveys were complemented by further research conducted by VisitBritain amongst buyer groups. The results of this research were used by the MIA and BPF to develop the processes for attainment and compliance of AIM.
    
The industry wide launch of AIM followed a six week pilot of the accreditation scheme by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) where AIM was made available to MIA members across the Northwest region.
    
James Berresford, director of tourism at the NWDA, said: “Business tourism is a key sector of the Northwest’s visitor economy, generating some 2.4 million staying trips and £620 million every year. The NWDA is committed to growing this market and recognises that one of the best ways to do this is by improving quality. The AIM pilot was an important step towards raising quality within the sector. Based on a sound understanding of what the customer wants, the AIM scheme encourages high quality facilities and high quality service, and is helping us to exceed customer expectations in the region. The roll-out of the AIM scheme is a significant stride forward for the conference and meetings industry; a coordinated, sustained, customer focused quality initiative will help to raise standards consistently across the UK.”
    
35 organisations played a part in the AIM pilot scheme and included members from:

  • Cheshire & Chester Conference Des
  • Cumbria Tourism
  • Marketing Manchester
  • The Mersey Partnership
  • Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board

Personal accounts of how AIM has benefited business Church House Conference Centre, London, Lacy Curtis-Ward, director & general manager:
    
“The AIM Kitemark is an excellent way to raise standards and share best practice in the meetings industry. We are an organisation that learns from our clients, our suppliers and our industry members - the AIM Kitemark is part of the process!
    
“We just joined the scheme and we have had results already. The verification checklists to obtain the accreditation have given us an efficient double check to our management processes – which is always a good thing.
    
“The main benefit of joining the scheme is to keep our staff focused on quality improvement.  The higher up we go in the AIM standard (from basic to silver to gold) the greater the sense of achievement for our staff.”
    
QHotels The Park Royal, Warrington, Jacquie Hanson, general manager:
    
“We signed up to MIA’s AIM scheme because I personally felt it would be beneficial to our business for recognition and to raise the standards.
    
“We believe the AIM scheme would give us stronger recognition and credibility within the marketplace.
    
“Our involvement in the scheme so far has been ensuring that we meet the required entry level criteria prior to our refurbishment programme and that we maintained this throughout the refurbishment. It is now our intention following our recent refurbishment to aim for Gold level.
    
“It is fair to say that the AIM scheme is starting to be recognised and as more and more hotels are signing up, I think this will become a key influence within the industry as to the choice of venue.”
    
Whittlebury Hall, Towcester, Marc Webster, group sales manager:­
    
“As the marketplace is becoming so much more competitive due to a broad spectrum of venues now being able to offer meeting facilities, I believe that AIM accreditation is a way to enforce to our clients that being a meeting provider is what we do best.
    
“The real impact of AIM will come from achieving the Silver level of accreditation which we are very much committed to. I believe that being assessed by a group of industry peers carries real value as they are probably more thorough, and likely to be more critical than our customers.
    
“I believe that the MIA has a bigger part to play now that AIM has been rolled out.”

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