After a little more than a year in business, Kris Hoff and Tami Manton, president and vice president, respectively, of Distinctively Detroit Tours, keep busy promoting their beloved city and region. Both have decades of experience in the travel and tourism industry, Hoff with Happy Times Tours & Experiences, and Manton with Group Tix & Tours. Eventually, they decided to partner, as they explained in a joint statement to Group Tour, “to create a tour company that will introduce the hidden gems and rich history that Detroit has to offer to their tour and travel clients, as well as local Detroiters that want to explore their hometown.”

“While looking for unique, specialized tour options and attractions in Detroit, I was not able to find what I needed or wanted for my tours,” Hoff says. “I pride myself on offering distinctive, unique experiences, and since they weren’t readily available, I began to knock on some doors.”

Eventually, she contacted Manton, with whom she had partnered on previous projects, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Or, at least, history in the making. Distinctively Detroit Tours launched on March 13 last year, or 3/13, a number significant to Detroit, they quickly point out: 313 is the Detroit area code.

Manton, who hails from Southfield, Michigan, says she is “falling in love with Detroit in a whole new way. Kris and I are having so much fun exploring Detroit and have already created many exciting itineraries and new partnerships in the city. We are energized by this city. We have the experience, passion, and determination to make others fall in love with ‘The 313,’ just like we have.”

Q. How would you describe the current state of the group tour industry, particularly in Michigan?

A. Hoff: It has its challenges but also has its rewards. The tour market is faced with increased costs, and there are people who can no longer afford to travel because the costs are getting so high. We like to plan ahead, but the consumer market likes to book last minute, which creates challenges on meeting deadlines and with making payments to venues. Plus, many attractions, hotels, and restaurants are still very understaffed. The rewards come when you see so many happy people who are experiencing Detroit for the first time or some for the first time in a long time. Hearing them discuss how amazing the city has become really invigorates and energizes us.

Q. What makes Distinctively Detroit Tours stand out from other tour organizations?

A. Manton: At Distinctively Detroit Tours, we create exclusive and memorable tour experiences. We have knowledgeable, local Detroit celebrity tour guides. We have secured a few exclusive opportunities, such as a behind-the-scenes tour of the Fisher Theater and meet and greets with Miller London, the first Black executive at Motown. We work really hard to show off the greater Detroit area.

Q. A big event is happening in September, celebrating the 65th anniversary of Motown. In what ways will you be participating?

A. Hoff: We have created an exclusive event, Kick-Off to Motown’s 65th Anniversary, and we are so excited. This is going to be an awesome night event featuring five differ- ent Motown people who were employed by Motown Records. Plus, with Motown entertainment, food, and a special Motown drink for all those who attend, it is something not to be missed. If you love Motown, you will love this event and this tour package.

Q. What are you doing now to prepare for that event?

A. Manton: The itinerary is set, and venues are secured. We are now marketing the event to the tour and travel markets. We are in the sales phase. Everything else has been set. We are anticipating many motorcoach tour groups to come to this special event. We have customized tours so they can stay longer and do other things besides just the Motown itinerary. Everyone seems shocked at what we have developed as far as group exclusive experiences like a behind-the-scenes tour of the Fisher Theatre, which was never open for tours previously. And who couldn’t resist the chance to ride in a Packard car at the Packard Proving Grounds?

Q. What other events are you planning for this year?
A. Hoff:
We have America’s Thanksgiving Parade, where groups have reserved seat- ing for an amazing parade that rivals the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On our five-day itinerary, groups not only get to experience the parade, but also go behind the scenes to see how the floats are made and see some of the antique cars that are used in the parade when they tour the Piquette Avenue Plant. It is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.

Q. Is there anything new for your organization this year?

A. Manton: Yes, our events: Kick-Off to Motown’s 65th Anniversary and America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And we continue to plan more events like Fat Thursday, a Polish holiday that shows off Detroit’s Polish community, and our Christmas Bakery Bus, which takes you around the world to differ- ent ethnic bakeries. Every tour we create is something special and unique.

A. Hoff: We are also creating food tours; not just any food tours, but really creating an experience around the food.

Q. What are some of your favorite experiences to share with tour groups?

A. Hoff: “Art with Heart” in Detroit is one of my favorites. I absolutely love going to C.A.N. Art Handworks and seeing all the metal fabrication. And, of course, the Eastern Market is nearby and that is my favorite [Tami’s, too]. From the largest open-air flowerbed market in the United States to the amazing stores, restaurants—including Bert’s Marketplace—and all the murals, the Eastern Market area is tops. Plus, you get to see the Unity Bell located inside the Eastern Market, which was restored by Carl of C.A.N. Art Handworks.

A. Manton: Personally, I love visiting Sanders Candy and watching the assembly line. I grew up on Sanders hot fudge cream puffs and the famous bumpy cake! The Fisher Building is the one that gives me all the feels. From the brilliant and simply stunning Kahn architecture to the Fisher Theatre and rich history of the auto industry, it simply has it all.

Q. Is there anything you’d like to share about Distinctively Detroit Tours that readers might not already know?

A. Manton: We truly love Detroit and want everyone to experience this amazing city. Kris and I both have successful businesses and had no intention of opening another one. But our visit to the 313 in late 2022 to find a few stops for a retail group out of Milwaukee led us to our passion and discovery of this culturally rich and beautiful city. We love to create new tours and will work with groups to create exclusive experiences to match their interests. Our newest find was a place called “What’s The Dill,” where sandwiches are made out of pickles instead of bread. So now, we are working on a pickle tasting experience.

By Andrew Weeks

Main Image: Kris Hoff and Tami Manton; Credit: Distinctively Detroit Tours