You do the math: five years ago the U.S. dollar was worth approximately one Euro, but in May one Euro was worth almost $1.60. Ouch. Everyone in the U.S. who imports apparel, helmets, lubricants or motorcycles from the 27 European Union trading states can feel that financial pain.
But there’s an upside, too. More European adventure riders than ever are looking for biking holidays in the U.S.A. Suddenly, any dealer with a hire fleet available could be hooking up groups of high-value motorcycle tourists who will pay premium prices for the real deal, all-American, motorcycle vacation experience, from a 21-day Route 66 trip aboard Harley Electra Glides to a week’s cruising for bikini bike washes on Main St. in Daytona.
It can be successful for dealers wishing to diversify, relates David Grist, boss of H-C Travel based in the UK, who also warns that location is a key factor. “Here’s the thing — no one has gotten rich renting motorcycles, anywhere in the world. It isn’t a golden egg. Location is crucial in the U.S. market. If you aren’t in or near a city that has an airport served by direct flights from Europe, then you are already at a disadvantage. For example, I would love to do more business with our rental locations in Montana, but for many European customers getting there requires three flights, taking maybe 18 to 20 hours of traveling, whereas Denver, Los Angeles, Orlando or Calgary may only require one nine or 10-hour flight.”
Some hire opportunities can be linked to big events like Sturgis, the US MotoGP round or Daytona Bike Week. In those cases, a local dealer can meet the spike in hire demand based around one large event. But be realistic on your fleet/insurance start-up costs — this isn’t going to provide year-round revenue.
Daytona is popular in Europe because of its timing, the sunshine and the daily flights direct from Manchester, London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt to Orlando. English is widely spoken in Germany and the Netherlands, so don’t be afraid of marketing directly to German or Dutch Internet sites if you can offer bike hire/accommodation in Florida during Bike Week.
Top-selling UK publication MCN, now part of Bauer media, also offers reader trips to Daytona each spring. So a tie-up fly/ride/villa deal with MCN in the fall could reap financial rewards the following spring.
Sportbikes are much bigger in terms of popularity across Europe than are MX bikes, and there are many independent operators offering trips stateside to watch Superbikes or MotoGP, especially with new tracks like Salt Lake City and Indy tempting European race fans.
The Sport Tourers
Neil Leigh, who runs Ardennes and Eifel Holidays in Belgium stresses that not every European rider wants a Harley-Davidson-centered Daytona/Sturgis experience. “I think many riders would prefer a Guzzi, BMW or maybe even a Deauville 700 to ride in the States, something relaxing yet fun in the twisties. In my experience now, there are two distinct types of UK/Euro riders: sportbikers and adventure tourer fans, with those who ride two-up choosing the big R1200GS, Guzzi Stelvio etc. as their dream machines. Not everyone wants to see the U.S. on a Harley Fat Boy. There is a gap for non-Harley dealers, I think.”
The Big Trippers
These guys — and gals — want a truly awe-inspiring trip, and they are any U.S. dealer/rental agency’s dream. Celebrating a 50th birthday or a retirement means spending big, often planning a leisurely cross-country trip involving travel between destinations like Los Angeles and New York.
“Many of our customers plan U.S. trips 18 months in advance,” says David from HC Travel, “and they want it to run like clockwork when they get there. There are no second chances with trips that cost $5,000 per head or more. That means your fleet has to be reliable, your shuttle is at the right airport terminal, bang on time, the accommodation meets the agreed standard etc. If there’s a guide, they must be an expert rider and part entertainer, too. Also, get the best possible insurance coverage for you and your customers; CDW, theft and SLI are a must. Don’t get a deductible of more than $1,000 for theft and CDW, and be sure to carry $1 million in liability for the customer and for yourself as the dealer. Any U.S. dealer should seriously consider signing up to a franchise, such as Eaglerider, that takes care of your European marketing, and a lot more besides. Europeans are different. It costs time and money reaching markets due to language problems. A franchise or Euro agent solves those problems for you,” concludes David.
Never forget that many Europeans have relatives in specific parts of the U.S.A. So Irish riders may favor visiting Boston or New York, Scots might have connections from Texas to Nova Scotia, Scandanavians may want two weeks seeing folks in midwestern States. Use the Internet to link your motorcycle rental site to motorcycle clubs, magazines or forums in the European countries you think offer the best potential. A few words of welcome in a European language also go a long way and costs relatively little in time or money to get right.
Grace Poutch, who works for Motorcycle Rental Ireland describes how the web worked for her fledgling company.
“ We spent two years setting up the rentals business, sourcing bikes, insurance, routes … all of that. One customer from Boston was researching his Irish family roots and found our website. Months later he and a group of 15 riders came over. “
But having a hire fleet doesn’t just win over tourist dollars. Your local customers might want to really test a touring model in-depth by hiring it for a week or so.
Again, Grace Poutch finds this works well over in Ireland. “We have a wide range of bikes for hire, as wide as possible in fact. We work closely with local dealers because they’re keen to get people to hire bikes as a kind of extended demo ride. A demo ride is often difficult to do in Ireland due to insurance restrictions, so testing them by hiring them out seems to work well with Irish bikers. Many dealers say they have sold a bike after we’ve arranged the hire, so I don’t see why that couldn’t work in the U.S.A. as well.”
Matt Ernst, who runs Nevada Motorcycle Adventures in Reno, has seen steady growth in European off-road rider business in his 16 years as an independent tour operator. “Europe has its off-road trails, but nothing like the open spaces of Northern Nevada. We find the old west flavor really sells, too. I’m lucky that I have permits to visit certain areas, and we take our tour guide role, plus rider-safety, very seriously. Riders want adventure, but nobody wants to get hurt out there in the desert. You have to act responsibly and check people’s dirt riding ability in advance; then plan routes very carefully and manage the riders on the trip. Keep an eye on`em.” Says Matt, who would like an OEM or bigger dealer to work with him on developing both road tours and off-road trips in Nevada and Oregon, “I think there’s great potential in Nevada especially; land access is excellent and road tours with an old west feel could be winners. Anyone interested should get in touch — let’s both make some money!”
David Grist from HC Travel notes that, “Not all European off-road riders are as hardcore as they like to think. They have soft butts and need lots of sleep. Insurance is another worry for European customers — they know that U.S. hospitals can charge huge amounts for treatment. Normal European travel insurance doesn’t usually cover it, so off-road medical cover is essential.”
The bottom line is clear: Rental or tour package sales to European riders can be done with some hard work, investment, a good location, long-term planning and some thinking outside the box.