Michael K. Krouse, CHME, CMP, CASE, is Regional Vice President of Convention Centers West for SMG Worldwide Entertainment & Convention Venue Management. He is responsible for oversight of twelve (12) convention centers and convention visitor bureaus, in addition to an Arena, CA Welcome Center, and all Food Service Operations located in the Western United States. SMG is a world leader in venue management, marketing and development of convention centers, exhibition halls and trade centers, arenas, stadiums, performing arts centers, theaters and specific-use venues such as equestrian centers.
Mr. Krouse is President and CEO of the Greater Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau (GOCVB), Ontario Convention Center, Citizens Business Bank Arena including Food & Beverage operations, and the California Welcome Center at Ontario Mills where he directs business development, marketing and destination sales for conventions, meetings and events, national and international visitors plus the overall operations at the venues. The GOCVB promotes the Greater Ontario region as a premier destination for meetings, conventions and tourism in Southern California and to ensure the transparency, accountability and effectiveness of the Tourism Marketing District, which was established under his leadership.
Prior to joining SMG, Mr. Krouse served as the Senior Vice President of Sales and Client Services for the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board (LATCB), where he was responsible for managing a number of departments including Meetings and Convention Sales, Client Services, Research and Membership. Under his nine years of leadership, LATCB generated substantial annual gains of up to 318 percent in economic impact to Los Angeles, resulting in an overall net gain of $5.8 billion during his term.
Earlier in his career, Mr. Krouse spent more than twenty five (25) years in a variety of senior hotel sales management positions, where he was frequently charged with overseeing more than twenty (22) hotels and multiple brands simultaneously. His customer service ratings at the time soared consistently above the 95 percentile. Key positions that he held during this time included Interstate Hotels and Resorts Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, and Hilton Hotels Corporation Regional Director of Sales and Marketing (West), for more than thirteen (13) years.
He is a Certified Association Sales Executive (CASE) with the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) with the Meeting Professionals International (MPI), and has earned the title of Certified Hospitality Marketing Executive (CHME) from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International.
He has served as a Board Member of the UCLA Extension Executive Hotel Program and Creativity Advisory Council, and Los Angeles Hotel/Motel Association. He is also a member of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Convention Industry Council (CIC). Mr. Krouse is a member of the Board of Directors for Discover IE, and also serves as a Board Member for Ontario Airport Travelers Aid.
Los Angeles is hometown for Mr. Krouse. He resides in Orange County with his partner and three children.
Would you give us an overview of your location and the Ontario Visitors Bureau?
The Greater Ontario Convention & Visitors Bureau is the official destination marketing organization for the cities of Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga. We operate both the Ontario Convention Center and the Citizens Business Bank Arena for the city.
Ontario, California, is located about 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, about one hour from Palm Springs, and less than an hour from Disneyland. Within an hour from here, you can go swimming in the ocean or skiing in the San Bernardino Mountains. Ontario is a beautiful spot, with sun 300 or more days a year.
The secret of our success is our ability to offer event organizers and planners a beautiful and convenient location; multiple venues; and a full range of the supportive services offer through the visitors and convention bureau.
When was the convention center built and how has it evolved over the years?
The Convention Center, which was built about 20 year ago, is an example of contemporary architecture with its clean look. Its main entrances have walls of glass, 45 feet high, providing abundant of light for the lobby area, and there is a beautiful private patio available for outdoor events.
The building offers 250,000 square feet of flexible space with 24 separate breakout rooms. The main exhibit hall consists of 70,000 square feet of column-free space and can be divided into two separate halls, and the ballroom has 20,000 square feet that can be divided into three separate spaces.
The convention center operates its own catering service and its food service is known for its high quality. We also operate the catering and concession services for the arena, which is a 12,000-seat facility associated with the convention center.
One of the unique services we have here in Ontario is our publicly operated internet. From a technology perspective, the community is at the cutting edge with Wi-Fi and high-speed Internet access throughout the city.
What are the other technological services you offer, either internally or outsourced?
In order to maintain the quality of the services available in our facilities, we like to maintain tight control of the subcontractors that work on events. But since our facilities are used by a wide variety of diverse groups, from high-tech events to religious organizations, we are flexible enough to adjust and accommodate their unique needs.
As far as the technology goes, we have that covered. There is high-speed Wi-Fi available throughout the building and even in our parking lots. For audio-visual services, we work with a company called Projection. They have been our outsourcing provider for the past ten years and are truly professionals. You would never know that they are not part of our staff. With regard to other needed services, including electrical, plumbing, and logistics, they are provided by our inhouse staff.
What are the unique benefits and advantages you offer to an event?
Our primary advantage is that we offer one stop shopping. By working with our team at the visitor bureau, it is unnecessary for event managers to go through five other providers to organize an event.
For example, the annual quilting convention, which is one of the larger events we host, relies totally on our housing and convention center services. We build a large tent structures for them and provide all of their catering, beverage, and electrical service needs. We also provide their attendees discount coupons from our large outlet center, Ontario Mills, since many enjoy taking advantage of our local shopping opportunities.
What are some of your larger events?
The quilting event brings in approximately 30,000 attendees. However, we run a Classic Car event for the city that attracts more than 200,000 visitors. We manage that entire event from start to finish.
The visitor bureau is also responsible for the city’s Street Banner Program. If an event wants to promote itself around town by installing banners on street poles, we do that for the city. The same is true for the city’s digital signboards. We can help promote events and engage the community’s interest into activities occurring at the Convention Center and Arena.
Do your facilities currently meet the needs of the community?
We are finding that the convention center is now too small to accommodate the growth of business activity in our area. We have just regained control of our international airport and it is attracting new airlines and increased traffic. So, there is a lot of activity and business growth all around us that is generating demand for space, which exceeds our current capacity.
Right now, we can comfortably handle 10,000 attendees in a single day. By using a tent as auxiliary space we can double that size, but beyond that it can get crazy. To accommodate the expected increase in demand, we have initiated a feasibility study for expanding the size of the building. Financially, the convention center is doing exceptionally well; and, as a matter of fact, it has no debt to the city and requires no tax payer subsidies.
What are the housing services that you mentioned earlier?
The housing service offered by the Visitor and Convention Bureau is done for the benefit of the hotels. We do not receive a commission for that service. We have over 6,000 hotel rooms in the immediate area that range from the large brand hotels to limited service motels. Just adjacent to the convention center, we have a 500-room, DoubleTree Hotel, and there are a variety of other large hotels nearby.
For the event organizers, we will help them secure blocks of rooms from the hotels and negotiate rates. We can also help them manage the blocks by using our online site and phone system.
Can you describe in more detail the CVB’s integrated, event marketing services.
The key advantage we offer is being able to link the needed services under one roof, which allows the event organizer to better control their costs. By working through the Visitors and Convention Bureau, they can manage the configuration of the facility and arrange for needed services provided by the CVB.
The CVB was created five years ago through the State of California by setting up an assessment district for Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga. The hotels voted to allow an assessment of two percent fee on each room. It is like a tourism tax except it is paid by the visitor and not by the business. The revenue generated is used by the CVB to cover their cost of operations and services.
Are there any plans to make the convention center more energy efficient?
We spent $10 million two years ago to install a solar system on the roof. That dramatically reduced our electric utility bills. The bills were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – now they are down to the 20s. Today, the building operates virtually on solar power.
How do you manage security at your facilities?
We have a very strict security policy at both of our buildings. All visitors are required to go through a pre-check area before they even get close to the doors. The pre-check includes a bag check and passing through a magnetometer. And we no longer allow backpacks.
Because of our association with the airport, we have access to six bomb-sniffing dogs. The dogs have become very familiar with our buildings and we use them randomly during events.
We take security very seriously and want to ensure that our guests are safe. Despite the inconvenience, our guests have been very appreciative of our security. We have developed several efficiency procedures that make the lines move, so the additional precautions have had limited impact.
Are there any special services that you would like to highlight for exhibitors?
Our loading dock is relative close to the exhibit hall which makes setup more convenient. Also, exhibitors seem to appreciate the amount of dock space we have for loading and unloading. The building has ten dock bays which is unusual for a building of this size.
The exhibit floor has many electrical boxes which allows great flexibility when it comes to configuring exhibitor layouts. In our building everything works. When you plug into a power box, you are going to have power.
Are there synergies between the airport, hotels, and convention center?
The CVB is currently in negotiations to operate a shuttle system between the airport, hotels, convention center, arena, and shopping centers. We have just conducted our first test of the system with a 24-hour, 4-day run to evaluate our planed routes.
The shuttle service will be operated by the Visitor and Convention Bureau with the financial grants from Air Quality Management District and the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority. The shuttle vehicles will be either be electric or CNG equipment and not be gasoline or diesel. In testing the all-electric shuttles, we have found that they are unable to make it through a full shift. So we are looking into other solutions.
In addition, we are taking over the Travelers Aid at the airport, as well as the Guest Services and the California Welcome Centers. We already operate a California Welcome Center at the Ontario Mills shopping center, which has about 20,000 visitors each month.