Meeting expectations

Value, the elusive commodity searched for by all of us each time we are in the market to buy, is, for those booking conferences, meetings and events, rapidly becoming more abundant. It’s the culmination of a process that began some years ago when astute companies quite rightly began demanding a healthy return on investment from the meetings and events they organised. These companies’ procurement departments limited their choice of venues and suppliers only to those that could demonstrate a commitment to consistently delivering a service quality based value proposition.
    
Demanding that a meeting fulfilled a defined set of procurement criteria was successful, it helped deliver ROI; and it caught on. These days, it is unusual for meetings industry buyers not to expect meetings venues and suppliers to offer a level of service commitment, but without a universally set standard, or measurable KPIs, service standards were still not guaranteed, much to the frustration of buyers.

Buyer reassurance
The meetings industry has been quick to react, finding ways to deliver what its valued clients wanted. Recognising the reassurance people feel when they are given the choice of buying services from a company that has achieved an accreditation from an independent assessor, such as the AA rosettes for hotels or the Michelin Star for restaurants, the MIA launched AIM (Accredited in Meetings), an accreditation specifically for the meetings industry that covers venues and suppliers, in March 2007.

AIM was developed by the MIA in association with the Best Practice Forum in order to give buyers a mark by which to recognise venues and suppliers that consistently deliver value in the form of a commitment to Best Practice standards.
    
Jane Evans, MIA chief executive – who spearheaded AIM, commented: “AIM helps meetings venues achieve a set standard for venue facilities and service delivery, based on measurable criteria such as customer service, compliance with codes of conduct, legislation and corporate social responsibility; meetings buyers know they can trust an AIM accredited business to perform well.”
    
She continued: “So that AIM is fully representative of the industry, membership is available for both meetings venues and meetings industry suppliers, with three levels of achievement; Entry, Silver and Gold. Furthermore, you don’t have to be an MIA member to become AIM accredited.”
    
Two years since its launch, AIM’s influence on the industry is starting to become apparent. Aside from giving venues a means by which to promote the quality of their services, it has caught the imagination of a more powerful audience and this is the influence that is set to ensure value proliferates. Big players like VisitBritain and some of the regional development agencies, have at last realised the value of value, and are using AIM to achieve their own goals.

Take AIM
Responsible for supporting venues in its area in attracting national and international business tourism, Conference Leeds made AIM a part of its strategy for the region after the accreditation gained the support of VisitBritain. Nicola Lockwood, manager, commented: “We were already very interested in AIM when VisitBritain announced its support for the accreditation. Knowing VisitBritain doesn’t make decisions like this lightly and that it had taken many factors into consideration when choosing the quality assurance scheme is was going to back, when it chose the MIA’s AIM scheme, it confirmed what we had already believed, and we also adopted AIM.”
    
Conference Leeds is a division of Leeds City Council responsible for attracting business tourism to Leeds and West Yorkshire. Its remit includes Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Calderdale and the area is home to over 230 venues and a host of meetings suppliers such as caterers and AV specialists. The organisation’s strategy is to show that the region as a whole is committed to high standards of service, reinforcing value propositions and attracting business from a wider area.
    
Nicola continued: “We want people to know that we celebrate quality venues, so they feel confident when they book their event in Leeds and West Yorkshire, because they know that we are a region that is committed to delivering excellence.”

Funding quality
In order to support its meetings venues and suppliers, Conference Leeds applied to Yorkshire Forward, the area’s regional development agency, for funding for the AIM strategy. It is using the funds to help venues finance the AIM achievement process. Initially, the focus is on those venues that can benefit the most.
    
“We are encouraging AIM achievement across the region, and we felt the best way to do this, while giving venues our full support, was to do so in manageable stages,” Nicola commented. “The first stage is for the 40 venues that rely the most on business tourism trade and bring the largest amount of business tourism into the area to become AIM accredited.
    
“The take up has been excellent and we are expected to have these venues achieve the accreditation in the near future, which will mean 17 per cent of venues on the region have the quality assurance accreditation. We will then begin plans for introducing AIM to an even wider proportion of venues and increase the focus on the AIM Higher accreditations; so far, five venues are on track for achieving AIM at either Silver or Gold.”
    
The important aspect of this strategy is that Conference Leeds is looking at the bigger picture and working toward sustainable long-term success. It’s raising the profile of its region, by raising the standards of the service delivered.
    
This very clear message of confidence, commitment and competence is likely to have a knock-on effect, as more businesses involved in the industry align their value proposition in order to meet expectations, helping to enhance the reputation of the entire region and attract business from a broader geographic area.
    
Other regions will see the benefits of supporting their business tourism industry in this way and adopt similar strategies.
    
Industry leading
Jane Evans, concluded: “While times are tough now, it’s a fact that the meetings industry always emerges from challenging times stronger than before. There is already a great deal of interest in what Conference Leeds and Yorkshire Forward are doing for their venues amongst conference bureaus and development agencies up and down the country. In some ways, Leeds is leading the industry and setting the benchmark where others will follow. This is great news, because it’s a phenomenon that can only lead to raised service standards throughout the meetings and events industry in Britain.”

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