Are you ready to take AIM?

In a move that is set to change the dynamics of the association and has the potential to shake up the meetings industry, the Meetings Industry Association (MIA), has launched its new accreditation, Accredited in Meetings or AIM as it will be known.
    
The launch took place at the MIA’s AGM and Conference, ‘the definitive meeting’ which was held at the Renaissance Chancery Court, London on Monday 5 March. It was the first AGM since the MIA introduced its new buyer members category late last year, which enables meetings and event buyers to join the MIA for the first time.

The aim of aim
According to Jane Evans, chief executive of the MIA, AIM will provide the meetings industry and its buyers with a long awaited, universally recognised indicator of quality for meetings space and services.
    
“The industry has fragmented as it has grown over the past two decades. 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,” comments Evans.
    
She continues: “For too long many venues have been trying to fit in with accreditations that were originally intended for hotels and the meetings industry has been crying out for a scheme that took into account its particular dynamics.”
    
“With the launch of AIM, we now have an accreditation that is relevant, not only to hotels, but to conference centres, all other styles of venue and very importantly, meetings industry suppliers.” concludes Evans.

Development process
Although just launched, AIM has been 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 scheduled for 2 April 2007 follows a six week pilot of the accreditation by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA). During the Pilot, AIM was made available to MIA members across the region, 35 organisations played a part in the pilot scheme, including members from:

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

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.”

Three levels of membership
Achievement of AIM is dependent on attainment, with a choice of three levels. The intention is to encourage continuous improvement as venues aim to move from the compulsory Entry membership onto Silver and then Gold membership.
    
It will take approximately one year to implement AIM in full, after which all MIA members will be expected to have achieved at least Entry level as it is now a condition of their membership. Current members will begin the accreditation process at the point when their annual membership is due for renewal, whilst new members joining the MIA after 2 April 2007 will be expected to begin the accreditation process immediately.
    
Whilst it might mean they have to work a little more diligently to ensure they meet all criteria, it is hard to see why MIA members will not be thrilled at this new string to the MIA’s bow. In the past, choosing an MIA member was a good idea because you were choosing a venue or supplier that was demonstrating it recognises its responsibility, but they had not passed any quality tests or accreditations. Now that being an MIA member demonstrates to buyers that your services have passed a stringent quality assurance accreditation has to be a good thing; a powerful message to buyers and an enormous benefit to MIA membership.

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, adherence to MIA CODE, and facilities grading.

Legal compliance
This is a 10 point code of legal compliance through a self-grading process. For those buyers or other interested parties who wish to see the full code, full details are 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 and like the code of legal compliance, this is available from the MIA on request for those parties who wish to review it. Essentially it is an agreement made by venues to commit to various best practice principles such as keeping term 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, to confirm facilities are ‘fit for purpose’ and to play a part in work of the MIA.

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 unannounced, random or following a complaint, spot check visits and 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 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.

Relevant and well thought out
The MIA appears to have approached the AIM development process with an assuring level of conscientiousness. There has been considerable market research, which was followed by the creation of a well thought out scheme that has relevance across the market. And with a pilot that has demonstrated the scheme’s effectiveness across a comprehensive collection of venues.
    
It is a powerful initiative from MIA that seems to be surprising the industry with new and positively significant announcements every couple of months. Time will tell the true effect AIM will have on the meetings industry; those that run the association now have the lengthy task of selling its benefits, first to the membership then to the entire meetings industry. Only when AIM is widespread, recognised and established can it be truly beneficial to the industry, however, it is an accreditation the industry needs. You could say it is the responsibility of all of us to support it.

For more information
Website: www.mia-uk.org  

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