Hotels and motorcycles go together like Fat Boys and S-Curves - that is, they both hug the road - according to Lisa Biank Fasig, senior editor for Colloquy, who makes this point for a good reason: to explain how Harley Davidson and Best Western are making the absolute most of their membership bases.
Motorcycle enthusiasts tend to take longer road trips than non-riders, and therefore stay at roadside hotels or motels more frequently. Some biker events, such as the annual Sturgis Rally in South Dakota or Bike Week at Daytona Beach, attract close to half a million riders for a week or more.
So when the teams at Best Western and Harley-Davidson had a chance to meet back in the mid-2000s, the wheels turned quickly. By 2006, the two companies launched the Best Western Ride Rewards programme, a sub-programme specifically for Harley-Davidson owners.
Nine years later, the programme is still expanding and diversifying in time with its customers. Ride Rewards counts 130,000 members and grows at an annual rate of more than 10%, thanks to a simple strategy: Finding a partner that makes it possible for both organisations to better serve their shared customers.
"It really is a matter of finding a business need that can be fulfilled by working together," said Glen MacDonell, managing director of loyalty and partnership marketing at Best Western International. "They wanted to add value to their H.O.G. membership. We wanted to showcase the hotel along the routes where their customers are traveling."
A behind-the-scenes look into the strategy reveals unlikely partnerships may be more obvious than expected, and can roll in exceptional brand experiences.
To understand how Ride Rewards came together, it helps to understand how deep Harley-Davidson loyalty runs, and with whom.
Its Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) has nearly 1 million members, which is fast diversifying. For three consecutive years through 2014, Harley-Davidson sales among young adults, women, African-Americans and Hispanics grew at more than twice the rate as those to white men aged 35 and older, according to its annual letter to shareholders. The company sold 268,000 bikes in 2014.
These millions of riders are "very active guests," MacDonell said. Seven out of 10 members of H.O.G. stay at a hotel at least once a year, according to a survey by Best Western and Harley-Davidson conducted early in the partnership.
Which translates to significant lodging opportunities. Because Harley-Davidsons tend to be larger bikes, their owners are apt to go on weekend or longer trips, said Peter Horst, spokesman for the American Motorcyclist Association. Since these trips require lodging, many events (including bike rallies) are sourced based on accommodations, he said.
"Harley-Davidson has a big share of the touring market," Horst said, adding, "That is an ideal vacation for many motorcyclists - a great ride, great food and great accommodations."
When forming Ride Rewards, MacDonell said both parties sought to include features and benefits that answered to those ideals, from bike-washing stations to communications. "You start with the customer voice in mind and you build it from there."
Ease is a constant consideration. Both companies review customer interactions regularly, the goal being to make it as easy as possible for members to find the information needed to do business with the brands. They share their data as well as performance reviews, and they regularly test and pilot new ideas, many of which come from members and hotel operators.
The bike-washing stations, for example, resulted from combined feedback. Other perks of the three-tiered programme (beyond points and double-digit discounts) include motorcycle travel articles and a ride planner tool featuring Best Western hotels. Members have the option to redeem points for shopping, dining or entertainment, or they may choose to earn air miles instead of points (250 miles per stay).
Also, importantly, members can use their Ride points to pay for their H.O.G. memberships, though a H.O.G. membership is not required to enrol in Ride Rewards.
"It has to be a mutually benefit or it won't last," MacDonell explained. "There has to be something there for both parties, but ultimately the customer has to benefit."
Ride Rewards has succeeded over the long haul because it adheres to several key practices that can be applied to most any partnership:
- Easy merging
Partnership programmes require integration, so all programme features should be viewed as opportunities to optimize. Harley-Davidson offers its H.O.G. members a ride-planning tool that includes Best Western locations, for example. The better the companies fit together, the more successful such integration will be. "If it is too far afield it distracts from both brands," MacDonell said.
- Talk, talk, listen
Representatives from Harley-Davidson and Best Western communicate regularly across all levels of the organisation. The frequency of these communications undulate by campaign and time of year, though generally some staff interact daily and at a higher level, less frequent. Regardless of the group, all communications are conducted at a strategic level, not on a transactional basis, MacDonell added.
- All ideas are good
Control groups are reliable sources for feedback, but Best Western recognised that bike enthusiasts come in many forms, including that of hotel managers. "We have a lot of great hotel operators who really embrace the rider," he said. Best Western also sponsors many Harley-Davidson events, such as its 110th anniversary, which present a rare opportunity to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Harley riders.
"If the partnership does not result in an improved programme, then it isn't successful. One plus one equals three when you look at a good partnership," concluded MacDonell.