July 20, 2020
New ideas emerge during challenging times, and growth is achieved in the process. This has been the experience of many businesses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they hope to continue thriving in this new normal.
Detroit Experience Factory (DXF), a local nonprofit that educates locals and visitors on all things Detroit through in-person tours, has been no stranger to quickly finding solutions for its business challenges since the pandemic was declared – thrusting Michigan into a shutdown. DXF’s tours were canceled or postponed, and its entire business operation “cease to exist from a revenue generating standpoint,” says DXF founder Jeanette Pierce.
VIRTUAL TOURS ARE A HIT!
But Pierce also notes “crisis breeds innovation.” That’s when Pierce and the DXF team came up with a new way to continue DXF’s mission – virtual tours!
Since early March, DXF has hosted virtual tours of the city, using an array of tools such as Google Map, Google Street View, historic photos, infographics, and more, to showcase the city and describe its history. “In some ways, it’s better than the in-person tours,” says Pierce. “We can talk about the Z Garage, for example, but on a virtual tour we can hit a button and it takes us back to see what it looked like before its artist-filled makeover.”
DXF’s virtual tours have been well-received, reaching Germany, France, across the U.S. and northern Michigan. The virtual tours have also given mobility-challenged individuals a way to participate in DXF’s tours. “We’ve been doing most of the virtual tours for free and with donations only,” says Pierce. “But it helped us understand how the future is going to be.”
EXPERIENCE DETROIT WITH A PURPOSE
Pierce, a lifelong Detroiter with roots on the city’s east side, founded DXF in 2006. DXF has toured 130,000 people since its start. Pierce says she was motivated to start DXF to help with Detroit’s growth and to fight against misinformation about the city.
“I wanted to connect locals and visitors to Detroit’s people, places and projects,” says Pierce. “It’s really focused on locals because they can use the information they learn on our tours to support small businesses, understand the challenges, which makes them more able to have a positive impact, or come up with solutions.” Pierce is sharing her idea elsewhere too. She recently helped launch virtual tours for the city of Pontiac.
IN-PERSON TOURS REIMAGINED
The DXF team has also found a way to resume in-person tours while keeping tour participants safe and properly social distancing. “The COVID crisis had us re-thinking things. It’s going to be a while before we can be on buses with people” says Pierce.
Cleverly, DXF has resumed its in-person walking tours with the help of phone narration. For example, to participate in DXF’s social distanced in-person walking tours on the “Best of Downtown Detroit,” tour participants just need to have a phone, a headset, and use a dial-in number to hear their tour guide’s narration. All tour participants are required to wear face masks during the in-person tours.
“We thought we’d have to spend money to start again, but we thought through it and realized most people already have the technology with them,” says Pierce.
DXF is currently hosting in-person tours every Saturday throughout July and August, while continuing its virtual tours. Those interested can also book custom tours for your work team, friends, or family.
Don’t miss Pierce’s Discuss Detroit series, which focuses on her conversations with the city’s community leaders, small business owners, and residents every Monday at 2 p.m. via Facebook Live.
Written by Let’s Detroit’s Alicia McClendon