Detroit: Inspire a New Generation of  Event Attendees With Distinct Local Culture

An interior shot of the Willis Show bar in Detroit. Guests are lined up at a 1940s-style bar facing a performance stage.

Skift Take

Authentic, memorable experiences are now a key incentive for travelers to make the trip — and event attendees are no exception. As Detroit's legendary musical heritage demonstrates, a rich arts and culture scene can be the key to creating memorable moments of connection for attendees and travelers alike.

Meeting planners looking to raise the bar for an extraordinary experience are broadening their horizons when selecting event destinations. At a time when attendees and travelers of all kinds are seeking authentic experiences that leave an everlasting impact upon the communities they visit, a destination with a distinct cultural heritage can offer immense potential for facilitating those experiences. Detroit is a prime example of a city with a rich cultural fabric that weaves together all sorts of meaningful moments of connection to inspire, educate, and delight attendees.

It’s not only known across the world as Motown or Detroit Rock City, but also as the birthplace of techno and the hometown of legendary artists like The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Eminem, Iggy Pop, The White Stripes, Big Sean, and Lizzo — to name only a few. The Motor City has a long history of creating and fostering new musical genres and talent, building a legacy that both reflects the city’s unique rhythm and resonates with audiences across the world. No matter what moves you, Detroit’s diverse musical offerings provide a powerful way to experience the city as a local. For those looking to explore further, a thriving arts and culture scene awaits, along with culinary delights around every corner.

In the new era of “bleisure” travel, these are the elements that will be essential for successful meetings and business events.

Event Travelers Seek Transformative Experiences That Speak to Values

The new generation of traveler has different priorities and motivations. They want to give back to the communities that inspire them by supporting vibrant local cultures. Event professionals with their finger on the pulse are looking to align with these values. They recognize that the potential for authentic connection during event travel is a key draw for attendees — maybe even non-negotiable.

For this reason, Detroit is perfectly positioned to become a top-ticket destination for attendees seeking out opportunities for transformative bleisure travel. As North America’s largest majority Black city, Detroit is proudly home to over 50,000 businesses owned by people of color, so folks traveling to Detroit can know that they are contributing to sustaining and supporting a rich, remarkable, generations-deep network of unique local culture creators. This is just one of the reasons it stands out from the “same-old” of typical meeting destinations.

Visitors enjoy a rooftop bonfire at The Monarch Club, just a 15-minute walk from Huntington Place convention center.

Legendary Music Venues Invite Attendees to Experience Celebrated Music Scene

Music is such a central part of our shared cultural experiences, but many miss out on the chance to connect it with a sense of place. This is the new kind of authentic, outside-the-box destination experience that today’s event travelers are craving most.

Detroit is undeniably a city of foundational importance for contemporary music in the United States and all over the world. Its legendary music scene is mostly located in the downtown area, making a night of club hopping easily manageable for offsite attendee experiences. Covering a variety of genres, its legendary venues offer performances rooted in historical tradition — and ones that break new ground.

Heritage Detroit Music Venues

Long-established heritage music halls offer one way to bring attendees together in shared moments that will resonate with them long past the end of the event. Cliff’s Bells, one of Detroit’s most revered jazz clubs since 1935, facilitates private bookings, making it an excellent place to organize an exclusive experience for your attendees. Detroit’s oldest blues bar, the Raven Lodge, offers generations of Blues fans and musicians a home to celebrate its living tradition. The Old Miami (known as the CBGB of the Midwest) has hosted live rock and roll music since 1980 and is also beloved for its beautiful patio space, which features a bonfire and koi pond.

Contemporary Detroit Music Venues

For attendees keen to tap into the cutting edge of the scene, Detroit offers memorable performances by contemporary big names and up-and-comers alike. Aretha’s Jazz Cafe offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime chance to catch an intimate set by a generational great — or perhaps an emerging artist that they’ll be telling stories about in 20 years. Exodus Lounge features DJ sets that showcase Detroit’s of-the-moment hip-hop scene and a legendary rooftop party space that’s friendly to booking corporate events.

Your attendees can take a short trip from downtown to see a show by a hip-hop star or a soon-to-be indie darling at El Club, which Rolling Stone magazine has ranked one of the top ten live music venues in the United States. Other top nightclubs available for corporate events include Trust with its ornate chandeliers, Spot Lite with its underground scene and enviable vinyl collection, and Big Pink with its warehouse dance hall.

Festivals and Live Performances Are the Heartbeat of Music-Driven Travel

Meeting planners looking to add an element of bleisure to their agenda should take a page from the travel industry’s most effective strategies. And for musical tourism to provide a truly authentic experience, it should ideally tie historical roots to the present-day scene.

Part of Detroit’s global significance as a music mecca is its status as the birthplace of techno and a hotspot for electronic music breakthroughs. Its close-knit creative community comes together each year during Movement. This festival caps off every Memorial Day weekend, drawing internationally famous techno DJs and over 100,000 visitors. Festival goers flock to the architectural landmark Hart Plaza, where they celebrate both global musical phenomenon and the city that continues to be its home.

Movement is produced by Paxahau, the proudly independent Detroit production company that’s also responsible for the Detroit Jazz Festival. The connection between the two forms helps explain what has made Detroit music so influential, director of operations Sam Fotias explains. Both are American forms with their roots in Black culture, he says, and both are “underground art forms of music, very avant-garde and very improv based.” Its historic and ongoing importance at the frontier of musical invention makes live music in Detroit particularly meaningful for performers and audiences alike.

“You see with a lot of artists that come here this kind of omnipresent reverence for Detroit because of what it means to their specific scene of music — and to music globally, because of all these different genres that have foundational blocks here in Detroit,” says Fotias.

A Chance to Explore

Fotias highlights that the music scene in Detroit stays closely embedded in a wider vibrant city culture driven by world-class cultural programming and thriving independent local businesses. In the same spirit of community pride, Movement encourages exploration of the city by allowing unlimited reentry. “We’re attracting them here, and trying to be a conduit so these people can see how incredible Detroit is, get filled with that excitement and that energy, and then come and dance it off,” explains Fotias. “People love the city and they love to represent the city.”

Plugging Into a Strong and Resilient Urban Culture

Of course, music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and a full appreciation of its cultural bedrock will incorporate a spectrum of other arts and culinary experiences.

Though best known internationally for its music scene, Detroit is also home to a culture of richly diverse art, architecture, design and urbanism. Fotias describes Detroit as “a goldmine of amazing opportunities for event planners” across the board. “It’s such a fertile place,” he continues. “There’s a ton of cultural institutions and tours, the nation’s best Riverwalk, and an incredible restaurant scene that is just growing by the minute.”

Event professionals can offer attendees a deeper understanding of Detroit’s historic urban renewal by tapping into the public walking tours offered by the Detroit City Institute. Art lovers can engage with iconic masterpieces of visual art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which also offers film screenings and creative workshops for planners looking to provide one-of-a-kind opportunities for deeper connection.

Detroit also boasts a sophisticated and dynamic food and beverage scene, with spots offering everything from traditional charcoal BBQ to vegan takes on traditional soul food to farm-to-table meals prepared from the fruits of a Detroit urban garden and served alfresco by the water.

Choose An Event Venue With Detroit’s Cultural Attractions In Mind

While it’s important to think of ways to give attendees the experience of a lifetime, event planners also have to take logistics into account.

Many of the hottest leisure tickets in Detroit are located in or near its downtown core. Event professionals can enhance attendee opportunities to experience the city by choosing a venue that’s close to the action. Fortunately, the city’s major convention center, Huntington Place, is located right downtown. The sixteenth largest convention center in the U.S., it boasts a 40,000-square-foot ballroom and 200,000 square feet of flex space.

Visitors enjoy yoga inside Detroit’s Huntington Place convention center.

Beyond the convention center, there are several other venues capable of hosting large-scale events to choose from. For example, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center is situated on the Riverwalk and just south of the heart of Detroit’s downtown. It also offers in-house AV services with hybrid capacity, indoor and outdoor reception areas, and can host events for up to 1,300 attendees. For a more boutique-scale event, Wyndham Hotel’s Fort Pontchartrain also offers excellent river and city views and several dedicated event spaces.

Additionally, Visit Detroit offers a handy guide that details options for accommodation in the downtown area. Or, if a venue outside the core is better suited for the event, planners can consider organizing shuttle buses as an outside-the-ballroom networking and social space for attendees.

Detroit: The Destination That Delivers a 360-Degree Event Experience

For a new generation of attendee, opportunities for meaningful and exceptional cultural exchanges can become the make-or-break factor as they decide whether to travel to an event. For planners who envision a truly 360-degree event experience, Detroit is a destination that’s ready to deliver.

To learn more about the unique attractions and cultural experiences that give Detroit its own special flavor, explore the Visit Detroit site.

This content was created collaboratively by Visit Detroit and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.