Best Western International / Harley-Davidson

Text: Eric Bass • Photography: Eric Bass

Best Western International and Harley-Davidson recently invited members of the press along for a four-day ride through the northeastern countryside of Vermont and upstate New York, with accommodations at Best Western properties along the way. The purpose of this unusual invitation was to publicize the renewal of their joint participation in the Ride RewardsSM program. Originally launched in 2006, it was a venture that had never before been tried in the hotel industry. According to Best Western's Vice President of Operations and fellow motorcycle enthusiast, Ron Pohl, there was much uncertainty about what riders would perceive as beneficial and whether they'd adopt a sense of loyalty to a particular hotel brand. Measurable goals were established early on, to determine whether riders would be attracted to the rewards program, and whether they'd become repeat customers moving forward.

On the surface, the arrangement made plenty of sense. Both Harley-Davidson and Best Western are iconic brands, familiar to riders worldwide. As motorcyclists, we occasionally encounter businesses that, for whatever reason, seem reluctant to accommodate us. Best Western wanted to clearly announce their welcoming intentions by becoming the only major hotel chain to pro-actively market to motorcycle enthusiasts.
Initially, the program was met with concerns raised by some of the hotel owners, about what kind of customers the program would bring in; but today, Ride Rewards connotes mature motorcycle enthusiasts and very positive associations. Pohl notes that, "Some of the owners have even asked me how I personally got into riding and told me they've always thought about doing it themselves. I just got back from two trips to visit owners in the Pacific NW. One of the benefits that they've been seeing is riders choosing their properties for trips and booking together as a group, because they know that they'll be welcomed and accommodated. Our hotels are in locations that are convenient to those backroads that we all enjoy riding on. In many cases, the people who are welcoming the riders when they reach the hotel are the owners themselves, and they want to give folks that home-away-from-home experience, and add that personal touch."

By all accounts both anecdotal and statistical, the Ride Rewards program seems to be measuring up well and warmly embraced by all parties. Pohl elaborated upon the results he's seen since 2006, "From Harley-Davidson's perspective, they didn't know how many of our member hotels would be willing to participate in the program. What we found was that in these first three years, that already more than half of the Best Western hotels signed up to participate in the program, and that we now have more than 40,000 Ride Rewards members, including about 5,000 HOG members. That's certainly a huge benefit for Harley-Davidson to be able to pass along to their customers."
With such a successful head start, Pohl believes that it was an easy decision to continue and even expand the program. "This is another three-year deal," he says. "There are a couple of enhancements to the program and as we move forward we'll see what else might be of benefit." Right now, the more than 1,400 Best Western properties participating in the rider-friendly program already offer amenities like access to a cleaning station and wipe-down towels. Additionally, riders can even use the Ride Planner on Harley's website to determine hotel locations for their trips.

Over dinner, I wasn't shy about giving my two cents as to how Ride Rewards can take things up a notch in the future. I recommended that rooms be equipped with sturdy hangers to withstand the weight of leather jackets, pants, and textile suits. A supply of individual-sized cleaning fluid packets and small cloths for de-bugging helmet visors would be nice. And of course, bike security is always a concern. The owner of the Lake Placid, NY Best Western shared a story about potential hotel guests willing to make a reservation only if they could be accommodated with an outside room, overlooking the parking lot, to keep tabs on their ride. My suggestion was to install a tire-level security rail, or a series of steel hoops cemented into the parking lot, for folks to chain their bikes to and ease their concerns. All of these ideas were met with enthusiasm by the Best Western team and, while no promises were made, they emphasized that their suggestion box is always open for ways to improve and expand the program. If you have ideas, contact either Best Western or H-D and share your thoughts through their websites.