The value of business tourism

AIMThe Meetings Industry Association (MIA) believes that venues and destinations that raise standards of service and increase value through its AIM accreditation can protect market share, and it is calling on industry buyers, including those employed by government departments, to insist on AIM when booking a venue.

AIM Accreditation
AIM (Accredited in Meetings) is a comprehensive grading system for venues and meetings suppliers; the only ‘quality mark’ dedicated to the meetings and events industry and designed to provide event buyers with reassurances of service excellence. Additionally, widespread AIM accreditation is intended to protect the industry by influencing more event organisers to hold their meetings in the UK and attract more international meetings to the country, because of the excellent value available here.
   
AIM was developed by the MIA, in association with the Best Practice Forum. With its heavy focus on the value proposition, AIM drives venues and suppliers at all levels to rethink how they achieve increased value for their clients, ensuring they raise standards. AIM has three levels of achievement, Entry, Silver and Gold, the latter two being reserved for those that consistently achieve service levels beyond expectations. Since its launch in 2007, AIM has become widespread with the UK meetings industry and achieved endorsement from many industry organisations including VisitBritain and Visit Wales.

An Industry United

In an unprecedented move designed to raise awareness of the importance of the meetings and events industry at government level, the MIA has been working with the BVEP and all its other industry members to launch the Meetings and Events Manifesto for Britain.  MIA chief executive, Jane Evans, comments: “Few people outside of the business tourism industry realise that meetings and events are worth £25billion to the UK economy, support 25,000 small businesses and provide employment to 530,000 people. This manifesto gives the industry a platform from which it can draw attention to its importance and drive change.”
   
The manifesto has been delivered to MPs and government ministers who have an interest in the business tourism industry and will be presented to guests at a reception at the House of Commons in October. The industry is united in making the MIA’s AIM accreditation a key feature, with the nine policy manifesto’s 5th policy actively encouraging the government to support the roll out of the AIM quality standard and calling for government spend on conference, meetings and events venues to be made exclusively within AIM accredited venues.

MIA Destinations Group

Working for a change in government attitude is a positive step, but it doesn’t protect the UK’s tourism destinations from future government cuts or provide industry based support to them. The MIA believes providing services at region and destination level is a key factor that will secure the continued growth of the sector. Evans comments: “We’re calling on buyers to use the AIM accreditation as a venue differentiator and by supporting regions to bring multiple venues to accreditation level we’re actively ensuring they have a large and growing choice of AIM venues and suppliers to choose from. This is important because it means the event organiser can choose to schedule their conference, meeting or event activity around venues, activities and suppliers that have all made a commitment to delivering value for money and service excellence.”
   
When destinations join the MIA, venues within that region are encouraged and supported to achieve AIM, first at Entry level and the AIM Higher levels, Silver and Gold. It’s an initiative Evans believes can rapidly increase the number of AIM venues, therefore vastly improving the performance of a destination as buyers recognise the increase in standards: “AIM has been shown to raise service standards and value for money within venues, as it becomes widespread across regions, we’re seeing those regions attract more business, both nationally and internationally.”
   
Three months after launch, in June, the MIA Destination Group had already attracted 26 members; an impressive list of high profile organisations which includes VisitBritain, Visit Wales, Visit Manchester and Tourism Ireland, each supporting high numbers of venues within their own areas to achieve AIM.

Giving Destinations a Voice

Along with being an efficient way to build the AIM network, there are many benefits for destinations joining the MIA Destinations Group, such as MIA board representation, access to industry best practice, shared knowledge and educational events.
   
The MIA Destinations Group is led by an elected chair, with a place on the MIA Council to represent the group’s views at a senior level. The first Chair, who was elected in March this year, is Catherine Walker, head of conference and business tourism at Visit Manchester.
    
Catherine comments: “The formation of this group is a major step forward for the meetings industry, and now gives destinations both a platform and voice from which to contribute to the debate whilst at the same time receiving additional resources from within the MIA to support our efforts on a local level. It’s a hugely exciting time to be a part of the MIA, and my objective is to grow our representation significantly this year.”

Through the MIA, UK destinations now have a very powerful platform from which to address government. This platform has been assured through the MIA’s seat around the BVEP table, a significant step up for destinations in the current political and economic climate. Having and using that voice has never been more vital and will continue to be over the next 12 – 18 months. Walker comments: “It is my aim that this seat will be influential for us not only for funding but also to allow stakeholders to understand the significance of business tourism as an economic driver and its current contribution and future real potential.”

Initial Goals
At the MIA Destinations Group’s first meeting, which took place at the Lancashire Country Cricket Club on 25 May, it was outlined that the group would fill the gap that exists for destinations support, by working together to implement a series of initiatives that include; delivering research and trend reports, creating a benchmarking process, education, lobbying and twinning with European destinations. 

Delivering Research and Trend Reports
The group has decided that it will conduct research in order to demonstrate to government the value of business tourism. It will also demonstrate to local stakeholders the value of business tourism to the local economy, using research results to reveal a direct link between business tourism and levels of employment and regeneration.

To conduct this research, what constitutes business tourism will need to be accurately defined and a common model needs to be developed. The intention is to create realistic research that is representative of the whole of the UK.

Benchmarking
Benchmarking of destinations is required in order that successes can be measured. However, it was recommended that this should be a measure of movement rather than like-for-like, as there is a great deal of variation between different destinations. Benchmarking would probably be used to measure the success of converting enquiries into business, as the group has identified the opportunity to create a UK destinations ranking list.

Education
Education is a priority. Falling into two distinct areas, education would be used to enhance the understanding of business tourism amongst stakeholders and increase the effectiveness of bureau staff.

The group will produce an educational pack to make the case for business tourism at stakeholder level, targeting government, local councils, funding partners and the general public.

For bureau staff, on the ground training within the destinations themselves and taking the form of workshops and forums is recommended at all levels. Other ideas include, creating ambassador programmes, initiating a destination exchange programme to facilitate shared learning, conducting bid workshops to determine exactly what buyers are looking for and working with MIA experts on a one-to-one basis.

Lobbying

With the group already representing such a large number of destinations and still growing rapidly, it was agreed that the group has the strength to effectively lobby the appropriate channels.

The current priority for lobbying was deemed to be influencing UK event booking agencies and corporate and association event buyers to arrange meetings and conferences in the UK.  Through the process, the group plans to develop a clear mandate for Visit England, Visit Scotland and Visit Wales and to promote the message to event buyers through a sustained campaign for ‘stay at home’ meetings.  The group is also considering the benefits of a referrals scheme between UK destinations.

Twinning
The MIA Destinations Group is set to develop a twinning programme intended to facilitate the advancement of common interests and trading between destinations in the UK and throughout the rest of Europe.

Jane Evans, MIA chief executive comments, “Working together through the MIA Destinations Group will enable UK destinations to drive initiatives that are beneficial at a regional level, effectively improving the meetings and conference product across all destinations involved.   With focused collaboration the ultimate result is expected to be empowered regions, offering improved services and a stronger value proposition to the meetings buyer in every area of the UK.”

For more information

Web: www.mia-uk.org