From guest contributor, Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, Breining Group LLC

In 2004, I was asked to serve as a member of the inaugural Customer Advisory Board (CAB) for Vancouver. Vancouver has always been known as a beautiful city, but at that time, we were just starting discussions about how to grow into a world-class meeting destination.

Since that time, we’ve seen the addition of the West building to the Vancouver Convention Centre, the development and opening of new hotels, the hosting of the 2010 Olympics, and so many more events that brought the world’s attention to Vancouver.

With each of these major milestones, Vancouver’s CAB worked with the destination to explore ideas and opportunities that could be capitalized on. Incredible ideas and outcomes result when a community pauses to listen to advice from their own clients. As a result of my experience in Vancouver, I’ve come to believe there is a role for Customer Advisory Boards in every destination.

Top five reasons why I believe a Customer Advisory Board is useful:

1. It enables the destination to get feedback from customers before going in a direction that could be counter-productive.

2. The smartest people can be lulled into thinking their ideas are the best ones. A CAB provides a reality check.

3. Everyone stays current on trends in the meeting industry, but the CAB members provide specific examples of how those trends are impacting them, their organizations and their meetings.

4. The value of a CAB is expanded and made more valuable when the host – either a convention bureau and/or a convention centre – shares the results and recommendations of the CAB meeting with the local hospitality community.

5. CAB members can become powerful ambassadors for a destination, as they share their experiences and insights gained at the CAB meeting with their colleagues.

A successful and productive CAB meeting is one that isn’t a FAM dressed up as an advisory board, i.e. filling in two days of social activities and site inspections, leaving only a couple of hours of discussion. When organized well, the benefits of a CAB go both ways. As a member of an advisory board, participants have the opportunity to exchange information and best practices with fellow CAB members. They have access to a wealth of knowledge from other meeting professionals who live and breathe their challenges and opportunities.

Several years ago, I switched my role and have had the privilege of facilitating the Vancouver Customer Advisory Board. I am still in love with this community. Still excited about the community’s willingness to listen to its customers. Still impressed with the lack of arrogance that sometimes accompanies success in other destinations with other leaders. And still always enthusiastic to hear about what’s next and where they’re going.