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Detroit As An Incentive Destination?

Decay, economic tumbleweed, living on past glories and bleak are adjectives often used when talking about Detroit, Michigan. So where better to include on a business incentive travel trip!

Last month Nikki, from our Events team, directed and managed just such a trip. As part of a twin destination event to the US, she proved that it is possible to run a memorable event that includes a destination that would never be considered normally.

Detroit was on the agenda because the client has a major corporate presence there and reinforcing the brand, its history and value was central to the event. What became interesting is it forced the Design Team to face the sorts of realities that corporate event planners usually avoid, such as poverty and crime. The city is more famous now for being unsafe, verging on bankrupt and desolate, its role as the engine of the economy and centre of musical innovation long gone. Nikki described her inspection trip there as the first time her family had expressed serious concern for her safety at work and the first time she’d ever been warned at immigration to look after herself once out of the airport. So add all that to the fact that we were looking after delegates (and their partners) from 28 different European countries and you have a recipe for… success?

Incentive Travel That's Relevant

The Detroit part of the programme was always going to be more about business, but that doesn’t mean fun and good memories went out of the window. And for all the negative press Detroit gets, it is still the centre of the US automotive industry. Being the birthplace of Ford, the Ford museum is not to be missed, and delegates also visited a GM heritage centre not normally open to the public. The feeling of being part of an industry with so much history made it clear to delegates that they are part of a wider automotive family. One oddity on the trip was the accommodation, because in Detroit most of the hotels are, or were, owned by the car companies - this made the brand immersion and the shared heritage even more apparent. Overall the focus was on being engaged with our client’s brand and celebrating the interest that all the delegates had in common. Arguably, this could only have been done in Detroit.

But what about the partners? As it turned out, Detroit did have things to offer those guests who were not so thrilled by automotive history. There was the opportunity to go shopping in the up-market Somerset Mall (just outside of downtown Detroit), an experience just like any other in the US. It is also worth remembering another feature of Detroit’s boom-years: Motown. The event in the city ended at the Sound Board music venue which was a highlight for delegates and partners alike. By the time it came to leaving, everyone was in such a good mood it did confirm that incentive travel done right is a fantastic reward, providing memorable experiences.

So what was the secret? Well, the whole event was contained - all the activities took place in less than 48 hours; the group was kept as one unit and going away from the group was strongly discouraged; there was no free time. Any pre-conceptions and concerns were managed in advance by carefully providing advice, not warnings, and translators were flown in for those with language needs. Communication was critical at all stages to keep everyone informed and involved.

Detroit was built on a grand scale, the US automotive industry is a metaphor for the American dream, so the reversal of fortunes appears equally grand. But, as strange as it may seem, Detroit as a destination proved to be an incentive hit and a reward for this particular client because of its relevance and position in the minds and lives of the delegates.

Would we consider it for a non-auto sector client? Absolutely not. Would we take on another seemingly impossible project? Absolutely!

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