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California Calling

When delegates to the 2016 Going On Faith Conference heard that it was going to be held in Ontario, many no doubt thought, “Sure. Ontario, Canada. That’s a nice place.” But they quickly learned that this Ontario is located in southern California. That’s the “Left Coast” and quite different from its Canadian namesake.

Ontario, California, is rolling out the welcome mat August 9-11 to delegates, who will visit this beautiful city nestled along the San Bernardino Mountains.

“We are 40 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles,” said Michael Krouse, president and CEO of the Greater Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB represents Ontario and neighboring Rancho Cucamonga. Both cities participate in the CVB’s promotions and activities. “We are also the hub around which there are a lot of major things to do in this entire region,” said Krouse.

Though most Going On Faith delegates will be in Ontario for only a few days, others might consider coming out earlier or staying later to take advantage of the destinations in the region. Visitors can draw inspiration from the following list: Los Angeles, San Diego, Disneyland and its resort, Hollywood, casinos, wineries, desert, sandy ocean beaches and snowy mountains for skiing. As you might expect, the golfing is fabulous, too.

“We have some big plans for them,” Krouse promised of those attending the conference.

Retail Central

The local shopping experience in Ontario is unlike almost anywhere else in the country. Ontario Mills is the largest one-story outlet mall west of the Mississippi River. There are hundreds of stores, dozens of restaurants and 58 movie screens. Located across the highway from the former Ontario Motor Speedway, it is one of the region’s top tourist attractions, even outdrawing venerable Disney. “It is about a mile in circumference and is shaped somewhat like a racetrack inside,” said Krouse. Therefore, if visitors want to get into shopping mode, wearing comfortable walking shoes is highly recommended.

Rancho Cucamonga has an unusual shopping hub of its own known as Victoria Gardens. It is a pedestrian-first, open-air, mixed-use town center with a plaza and plenty of shopping, eateries and entertainment selections.

Rancho Cucamonga is also home to the area’s professional baseball team, the Quakes, a Class A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team plays its home games at LoanMart Field and has set various attendance records for its league. An evening at a California baseball park is always a pleasant experience.

A new official California Welcome Center just opened at Ontario Mills. It is one of a statewide series of centers that encourage American and international tourists to see and enjoy as much of California as they can. Krouse’s CVB was awarded the opportunity to build and operate its own 1,500-square-foot center and expects to see hundreds of thousands of information-seeking visitors per year and a huge number of tour buses.

Ideal for Meetings

The Going On Faith Conference will take place at the Ontario Convention Center, which is located less than a mile from L.A./Ontario International Airport.

“It is an 18-year-old building, but it is in pristine condition and looks new,” said Krouse. “It is full of glass walls with great views of the San Bernardino Mountains. It’s a beautiful location.”

The convention center boasts more than 225,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. As part of that layout, the exhibit hall has 70,000 square feet of column-free space, 24,000 square feet of meeting rooms and a 20,000-square-foot sectional ballroom. Citizens Business Bank Arena is part of the mix and offers seating for up to 11,000 people.

Krouse described the convention center as contemporary and being more like a “high-end hotel experience” than a traditional convention center. “The food and beverage services are more like what you would find in a fine restaurant than at typical convention centers,” he said.

DoubleTree by Hilton is the official Going On Faith Conference hotel. It, too, is close to the airport and has a convenient walkway to the convention center. The convention center is surrounded by 3,000 hotel rooms. Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga together have a total of about 6,000 guest rooms.

The Going On Faith Conference is being organized by The Group Travel Family. President and CEO Joe Cappuzzello said the delegates who gather in Ontario are an important part of the group tour market. “These are people who plan the social and the group leisure travel and tourism activities for their religious organizations,” said Cappuzzello.

For delegates, the goal is to go on a fact-finding mission for their religious groups. “They are trying to locate new destinations and to meet with those people face-to-face. These delegates travel with people from their religious community, and they want to be sure they know the tour operators they might commit to and travel with and want to be able to trust them,” said Cappuzzello. “That’s because the people they take along on these trips are their friends and people they go to church with and do things with in their communities.”

Friendly and Affordable

Krouse said the religious market is important to Ontario.

“This is a conservative city in the middle of a liberal state,” he said. “But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is huge in the region. Catholics, Christians of different faiths and evangelicals are also common. Our churches are exceptionally involved in the community.”

Traveling groups always want to travel to L.A., San Francisco or San Diego, said Krouse. “The problem is they can’t afford it. Ontario is affordable. The cost to do business is significantly less. The religious market does well here because of price points. For example, a hotel room in Los Angeles might be $300. The same type room in Ontario may be $100 to $125.”

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Dan Dickson

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