Part of a region known as the Inland Empire, Greater Ontario consists of two cities—Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga—and is about 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Services abound here. Ontario International Airport, which is a gateway for 12 major airlines, makes flying in from most American cities a cinch. Just 2 miles from the airport, the Ontario Convention Center offers 225,000 square feet of column-free exhibit, meeting, and function space. There are over 6,200 hotel rooms in Greater Ontario, and 2,500 are within walking distance of the convention center.
But while the region boasts the rugged San Gabriel Mountains as a stunning backdrop and 300 days of sunshine a year, Greater Ontario isn’t going to draw incentive groups in search of a bucket-list destination. “Our sweet spot is middle-management, middle-tier types of meetings,” says Michael Krouse, president and CEO of the Greater Ontario Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We do a lot of training and education meetings and a surprising number of high-tech, but it’s not Microsoft or Apple or other major corporations that are household names.”
As Krouse sees it, Greater Ontario’s lack of glamour and sizzling nightlife is a selling point when it comes to meetings focused on outcomes. “We’re not a leisure destination, but we’re a perfect meetings locale,” he says. “We don’t have the distractions of, say, Las Vegas. So, if you want to accomplish the goals of a meeting, this is where you come. And we’re outdoorsy, so you can still enjoy lunch on one of our patios outside the convention center while you’re getting business done.”
Flexibility and Affordability
Clay Mitchell, state executive director of SkillsUSA California, a nonprofit organization that prepares students for careers in trade and technical services, planned the organization’s 55th Annual SkillsUSA California Leadership and Skills Conference. Held April 21-24, 2022, the nonprofit’s first annual conference since 2019 drew 2,500 attendees. Yes, there was a DJ, food trucks, and opening and closing ceremonies, but mostly, there were logistics, and the Ontario Convention Center handled these deftly.
“We’re not a typical conference where you mostly sit at tables and chat,” Mitchell says. “We had over 65 competitive events that were things like welding, robotics, electric wiring, carpentry construction, and commercial baking, and these ran from 7 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The convention center is very flexible, and [the team] was able to set things up and turn things over quickly so we could use the space for our needs. The community was also very supportive. San Bernardino Valley College, for example, hosted our automotive body refinishing and collision car repair competitions.”
Mitchell says the company plans to keep the conference in Greater Ontario for at least the next few years. Besides its inland location, the Ontario Convention Center is a nonunion facility, and that goes a long way in lowering expenses for cost-conscious organizations and companies. “We’re able to use the dock and load things in and out of the facility ourselves,” Mitchell says. “That makes a huge difference in affordability.”
Places to Gather
Hockey, soccer, football, and basketball are all played at the 225,000-square-foot Toyota Arena. With a capacity of 11,000 guests and home to 36 luxury guest suites, the arena can accommodate private events ranging from a corporate luncheon to a full-arena gathering.
Meeting planners might also want to consider the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center. It is home to the 560-seat Lewis Family Playhouse; Celebration Hall, which has 4,500 square feet of meeting and banquet space; and a spacious outdoor courtyard.
Do Some Shopping
Greater Ontario is home to Ontario Mills, California’s largest outlet shopping mall, with more than 200 stores. If you work up an appetite flipping through the racks at Coach, Michael Kors, and Uniqlo, there are nearly three dozen spots to stop for a quick bite.
For a less frenzied shopping experience, the outdoor Victoria Gardens offers, says Krouse, “a kind of old-fashioned Main Street vibe.” Visitors can catch a ride on the outdoor mall’s trolleys, take a photo in front of the Cinderella Carriage, and watch little ones on the Choo-Choo Monga train.
Take a Hike
Before heading to the airport or hitting the freeway, lace up your hiking boots and explore the North Etiwanda Preserve in the foothills above Rancho Cucamonga. The primary out-and-back trail is 3.3 miles and offers views of the remnants of early pioneer settlements, along with native wildlife and plants.
Better yet, suggests Krouse, linger a while. “I was born and raised here,” he says. “So I want meeting planners to know that this area is literally in the heart of Southern
California. … Add a few days at the end of a meeting, stay in Greater Ontario, and go skiing, hit the beach, visit Palm Springs, or drive to Disneyland—all within an hour.”