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Ontario Hosts Small Market Meetings Conference

New business relationships built; old business friendships cemented. That’s what 100 meeting planners and 170 travel industry representatives achieved during the 2018 Small Market Meetings Conference held September 23-25 for the first time on the West Coast.

The conference, presented inside the Ontario, California Convention Center, featured meeting planners from across the country searching for new places for their colleagues to meet. They spent hours chatting with reps from a myriad of cities, states, institutions and attractions that would love to host them.

“This is our third conference in Ontario,” said SMMC president Joe Cappuzzello. “Larry Kaufman and his team took great care of us and the weather was magnificent.”

Meeting planners like Steve Mickley of the American Institute of Building Design in Jupiter, Florida worked hard during two marketplace sessions. “We have eight professional and two student conferences per year,” he said. “They’re small and intimate and they’re growing. We do many field trips. We’re looking for unique venues and are moving away from hotel/conference room settings.”

The Western U.S. travel industry was highly represented at the conference. Caren Werner of Visit Ogden, Utah found the conference to be in her wheelhouse. “We’re not a tier-one city. That’s why this conference is a great option because people here want to come to tier-two cities. We have great history and are ten minutes from the mountains and trail heads.”

Chris Dunham traveled from Visit Bellevue, Washington. “This is a first-time conference for us,” he said. “It caters to smaller markets, which we are. It’s a good format and we can spend time with people. My appointments have been quality ones. We’re seeing people aligned with what we have to offer.”

In his opening remarks, conference partner Mac Lacy revealed recent industry trends to delegates. “CVBs, planners, facilities and delegates are dealing more with physical and data security,” advised Lacy. “Also, smart technology is a huge, growing part of the industry. Another trend is the need to create local experiences in the destinations where meetings are held. Delegates expect to leave a conference knowing more about a city than when they arrived.”

Delegates enjoyed delicious meals and entertainment like dueling rock-and-roll pianos on the first night and a do-your-own-thing night at Big Al’s the next evening. “I thought Big Al’s was awesome; really fun,” gushed Lelonie Luft of the Peoria, Illinois Area CVB. “The food was amazing. I liked the size of it – not too big, not too small.”

Next year’s Small Market Meetings Conference will be September 24-26 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “We’re a small market for meetings and conventions and many don’t know us,” explained Brad Toll, president/CEO of the Greater Green Bay CVB. “This conference is great to introduce us to the market. Meeting attendance tends to grow because many haven’t been there before. Lambeau Field (Green Bay Packers) is on many people’s bucket lists.”

For information on next year’s Small Market Meetings Conference, visit

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.