Achieving economies, retaining standards

In the aftermath of the government’s public spending review, the Meetings Industry Association (MIA) has a proposition for government buyers at all levels that is designed to achieve working efficiencies, maximise event budgets and even create jobs.   

Under the proposition, MIA members guarantee excellent service delivery, best practice and a commitment to value promises, if buyers commit to using their services.   

It’s an indication that the meetings and events industry is prepared to work with buyers to ensure they continue to achieve event objectives, despite being subject to budget restrictions.   

The common sense approach is an example of an industry tackling the public sector spending cuts with realism and pragmatism.   

The business visits and events sector is actively working to raise its profile in terms of its value to the UK’s economy. In particular, the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) influences and develops policies and strategies favourable to the development of the sector.             

At a reception held during National Meetings Week in October, the organisation presented MPs with its ‘Britain for Events’ report. The report is a snapshot of the sector, covering its size, value and dynamics. It is one of a number of initiatives undertaken by the BVEP and includes a breakdown of the value of each sector element. It reveals the whole sector to be worth £36.1 billion.

    Other key facts contained within the report:

• There are over 25,000 businesses in the business visits and events industry

• Over 530, 000 people are employed by the industry

• Trade transacted at exhibitions and other business events held in the UK is conservatively estimated to
    be worth over £100 billion.

Danger of sector decline

The sector is in danger of decline because of its heavy reliance on events organised by the public sector which are now being cut.    

According to a survey of venues conducted by the MIA on the impact of the loss of public sector business on the business tourism industry since the coalition government took office, 83.5 per cent confirmed their venue is frequently used by government departments. 22.9 per cent claimed that 50 per cent or more of their business is reliant upon public sector income.     

The results show the public sector has already drastically cut back on business tourism spend, with 68.8 per cent of venue respondents claiming they had been notified of cancellations in public sector business within the past 12 weeks. 72 per cent of those that had not received cancellations had been given indications from public sector clients that current activity will either be reduced or will cease.

Continuous Improvement

The ‘Britain for Events’ report is also concerned with the benefits of continuous improvement of standards within the industry and dedicates an entire chapter to the issue, giving much credit to the MIA’s AIM standard. In turn, the MIA believes government use of AIM venues and its endorsement of the accreditation at a national level is an opportunity to protect jobs and attract business into the UK.   

The MIA developed AIM, in association with the Best Practice Forum, in recognition of 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.      

Jane Longhurst, MIA chief executive, who spearheaded AIM, says: “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 business to perform well.   

“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.”    

During a venue’s AIM accreditation process it is scored against 50 grading criteria, covering value for money, best practice, compliance with legislation and CSR, on behalf of buyers. It’s a process designed to add value; providing buyers with reassurances and saving them much needed time when choosing a venue and location for their next event.

The MIA’s proposal

Longhurst says the MIA’s objective is to persuade the government to endorse AIM and to support the raising of standards in the industry by ensuring public sector events are held in AIM venues. In these austere times, government buyers need venues that can offer firm reassurances of professionalism, excellence and value for money. Through AIM, all MIA members can offer this, so it’s for good reason that these buyers should support the accreditation.   

“Furthermore, businesses with AIM are a valuable asset to the community, attracting business and securing jobs,” she says.   

The aspect of AIM Longhurst is referring to is its potential to secure and create jobs and wealth by attracting more business to an area.  Destinations that offer a wide choice of AIM businesses, such as venues for hosting events, caterers for providing the food and audio visual companies to manage staging, tend to be more competitive and, especially with the increased credibility of AIM achievement, attract higher levels of both national and international business.    

The knock-on effect is the meetings and events businesses in these areas are more prosperous and employ more people. Clearly the ability to attract international income is a boon for the entire UK economy; an opportunity to create income for the nation, while ticking many of the procurement boxes outlined by Philip Green in his recent report on inefficiency and waste in government spending.

Leveraging buying power

Philip Green’s report was commissioned in August by the Prime Minister. In it, Green writes: “Government does not leverage its buying power, nor does it follow best practice. Procurement data is shocking – it’s both inconsistent and hard to get at. There is inefficient buying by individual departments, with significant price variations across departments for common items.”   

On London hotel night spend, Green’s report identifies that: “Government uses 400,000 room nights in London each year at a cost of £38m. The highest price per night is £117; the lowest price per night is £77. The differential: 34 per cent ”.

    There are many ways that the meetings and events industry can help the public sector operate more efficiently and rather than panic about public sector cuts, the meetings and events sector is now focusing on presenting government buyers with opportunities to make savings.

    Michael Begley is managing director of He uses his experience of venue finding and booking systems to suggest potential money saving solutions available within the sector. “So much time and therefore money is saved when the right tools are used for the right job. When it comes to venue finding, Google-ing it is not the answer,” says Begley.

    He believes traditional search engines are not specialised enough to add great efficiencies, and do not allow the user to define the size, style and facilities of the venue required, or whether it is AIM accredited. “These are important ingredients of venue finding that create highly specific results that are available from a good online venue search tool,” says Begley.

    The industry has also found a way to automate the venue briefing process, allowing buyers to save time and increase competition between those bidding for its events, by submitting events briefs simultaneously to a list of selected venues. Begley continues: “By using the right online venue findings tools, a short list of suitable venues can be created very quickly and rather than call each individually, you can generate a detailed enquiry form or Request For Proposal, this will tell the venue teams within your selected venues all they need to know, and can be sent to them all simultaneously.“

    Using an agent is also an excellent, yet often overlooked, way for government to make savings. Begley, comments: “Currently the agents we work with at are saving their clients between 14.2 per cent and 42.4 per cent on their events. These meetings and event agents are experienced experts in what they do and as part of their service, will negotiate with the venues, on their clients’ behalf, for the best price and to ensure the pricing structure is correct.”

Common sense approach

Cuts to departmental budgets and implementing the recommendations proposed by the Philip Green report are, despite some objections, largely common sense in the current climate. Inevitably they will lead to a new era in public sector spending with a new approach to procurement that mirrors that already taken by the private sector – again, common sense. Indeed, it is perhaps because of the pragmatic relationship it has developed with the private sector that the meetings and events industry is in a position to rapidly present budget optimising solutions such as AIM to the public sector.

The decision for government is whether or not to reward this admirable attempt to raise standards and secure value, by endorsing AIM, answering the call of the entire business visits and events industry, or to ignore it. Let’s hope common sense prevails.