Meetings venues are adapting to changing times

Despite some uncertainties regarding the strength of the economy, the meetings industry has benefited from a strong start to 2018 says MIA chief executive Jane Longhurst.

There’s no denying it, Brexit and the economic downturn initially brought hesitancy to the sector. In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum our members witnessed an average drop in enquiries of around 10 per cent in mid-late 2016, as businesses held their breath to see what the effect would be. 

Thankfully, by May 2017 enquiry levels began to recover some of the lost ground and this decline has now been replaced by more buoyant leads. Over recent months our intelligent online benchmarking tool – miaTouchstone – has demonstrated enquiry levels are up by around 10 per cent compared with the previous year with no signs of a winter downturn, despite the bad weather experienced by many regions of the UK.

Here at the Meetings Industry Association (mia), we believe much of the positive trend is thanks to the sector intelligently adjusting to the changing times and evolving its offering. 

Those venues able to offer adaptable meeting spaces, for example, benefit from being able to provide options tailored to a client’s exacting requirements. A ‘one size fits all’ attitude is no longer workable when it comes to meetings space. The expectations of what people are looking for vary drastically from a simple business meeting around a table with coffees and teas, to a corporate day incorporating workshops, discussions, presentations and team building activities. The challenge is to stand out from the crowd. 

A unique location may attract attention, but in today’s market agents and businesses want to know they are getting value for money, excellent service and an assurance that the standards will meet their expectations. The mia’s AIM accreditation confirms that a venue has met the required level and provides this assurance bookers are seeking.

More than 500 venues and service suppliers across the UK have achieved AIM – the UK’s only nationally recognised standard for the sector – after being audited against a strict 50-point criteria covering the quality of facilities, accessibility and best practice standards.

The standard meets government department procurement criteria, so anyone booking AIM-accredited meetings venues or suppliers can be assured they have gone through rigorous tests and are set up to meet their needs. While times may feel uncertain, at least AIM-accredited venues provide certainty that their event will be remembered for the right reasons. 

Taking a creative approach to space – both inside and out – has also helped venues of all sizes grow and thrive. Being able to offer clients the chance to create different meetings spaces and add alternative activities to the agenda helps to secure bookings. However, for some venues it is not always easy to see their potential, and some are missing opportunities to secure new business by not capitalising on the assets they have. 

To address the financial restrictions being experienced by many businesses, venues who are offering attractive deals have flourished. These deals often not only secure new clients but also ensure returning business. 

Elsewhere, networking and sharing ideas with likeminded industry personnel can reap significant rewards, as businesses can be exposed to a wide variety of concepts that will help set them in a new direction. Learning how others are gaining success can help spur ideas and bring about the growth desired. These can range from additional services to offer and how best to sell smaller spaces, to linking with third parties to provide a diverse selection of facilities.

Networking is one of the key benefits that membership of an association like the mia brings. At the mia we have provided support and advice to our members on not only surviving but prospering in these challenging times. We’ve continued to focus on providing three core areas of support covering operational excellence, innovation and business performance.

Over the past months we have seen membership booming as more and more venues see the benefit of being part of an association. We have listened to what assistance they feel they need and have ourselves adapted to provide the best benefits to our members as we endeavour to not only meet but exceed their expectations.

Through our networking and constructive and informative education programme we have addressed topics ranging from getting the most from social media and the importance of listening to customer needs to retaining and developing a quality workforce. Our ever popular Connect Agents’ Days enable members to have unrivalled access to booking agents, allowing them to discover first-hand what agents are looking for and how venues can boost bookings. These are just a handful of the benefits of belonging to a trade association such as the mia, especially when the market is challenging. 

The meetings industry has faced challenges over the last couple of years, just like any other industry operating in the UK has. However, as the results show, by being prepared to embrace change, welcome new ideas and push the boundaries we’ve weathered the Brexit storm and are now in a stronger position than many to grow from. The sector should be approaching the rest of the year with optimism and positivity.

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