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June 15, 2008

AIMING HIGH: Is the MIA’s accreditation scheme working?

A year after the Meetings Industry Association (MIA) launched the industry’s only national quality assurance scheme Accredited In Meetings (AIM), just how have its members responded and is it the guarantee of excellence buyers have been waiting for?

Since its launch in April 2007, the MIA has been swamped with applications from hundreds of existing and new venue and supplier members for entry to AIM.

The scheme, which offers assurance to buyers that members will deliver their promise of exceptional standards, has had the impact the MIA hoped for and is fast becoming a universally recognised indicator of quality for meetings space and services.

A flying start
In just the past few weeks, the MIA has processed AIM applications from 37 organisations across the country, with more coming in on a daily basis.

All applicants must pass the Entry level assessment to qualify for AIM status, and venue members can go on to achieve Silver and Gold level if they meet advanced criteria, such as excellent customer service, innovation and a commitment to continuous improvement.

“I am delighted to be seeing a rush of applications for Silver and Gold levels,” says MIA chief executive Jane Evans. “Venues are racing to be first to be able to demonstrate their exceptional standards and service levels to clients.

“It’s really very encouraging and indicates a strong desire within the industry to ensure delivery of the very highest levels of service. The scheme was designed to encourage best practice and exceptional service and clearly it is doing exactly that.

“There is a clear indication that organisations want to obtain this unique industry standard with a rapid increase in membership applications,” Evans continues. “There has been a huge amount of interest from destination management companies, with many seeing AIM as a way to give confidence to buyers. Destinations, such as Merseyside, Chester & Cheshire, Cambridge and Northamptonshire, are all encouraging their members to apply for AIM.”

Jane Evans: Delighted with the reaction to AIM

AIM Entry level accreditation involves three distinct elements: legal compliance, adherence to the MIA CODE and a meeting facilities grading. To qualify, members’ meeting facilities must achieve a minimum grading score of 60% compliance. Accreditation is renewable annually, and all members will have to produce a portfolio of relevant documentation as evidence to support their application.

Going for Silver

AIM Silver level accreditation is optional for members and encompasses the requirements of Entry level. Silver level requires members to meet the criteria set in the Best Practice Forum (BPF) Achieving Service Excellence with a minimum 80% deployment score to prove the consistent achievement of good service standards. Members are required to renew their Silver level accreditation every two years. At this level, the standard is peer group assessed – a system that encourages the sharing of best practice.

Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa, in Thornton Hough on the Wirral in North West England, is on its way to achieving Silver level membership.

“We are very pleased to be part of the AIM scheme and it is definitely worth doing,” said the venue’s conference manager Derek Maund. “We offer more than just the basic facilities and feel our customers would recognise that with Silver level status.

“It is a good quality indicator for conference centres, as well as hotels, and the more organisations that apply for AIM status, the better it will be for all of us.”

Gold star
AIM Gold level accreditation is also optional for members. Successful candidates will meet best practice criteria over and above the requirements of Entry and Silver levels. For Gold status, members will demonstrate at least 80 per cent achievement of meeting targets, and demonstrate continuous improvement and innovation. Members are accredited by independent assessors every three years.

One of the MIA’s members going for Gold is Woodland Grange Training and Conference Centre, in Old Milverton Lane, Leamington Spa.

Divisional director David Vaughton aims to be the first MIA venue member to become Gold accredited, and hopes that target will be achieved in two months time.

“We decided to go for Gold level status because I personally feel, from a buyers’ perspective, it shows the highest quality of service,” he said. “As a conference centre, we need to have the benefit of a quality rating system as recognisable as the star system used by hotels.

“The best part of the AIM scheme is that it’s not just about ticking the right boxes; it makes you work to achieve accreditation, which is much more worthwhile in the long term.”

More established

The MIA is delighted with the success AIM has had within the meetings industry in the past year and expects it to go from strength to strength as the number of applicants continues to increase and the quality standard becomes more established.

“From a buyers perspective, it’s time to start demanding AIM,” said Evans. “With over 300 venues throughout the country already AIM accredited, it’s getting easier to ensure that only AIM-accredited venues appear on your shortlist. AIM, after all, ticks many of the procurement boxes.”

For more details about AIM, contact MIA membership development director Simon Bullough by email at [email protected]

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