Paul De Jongh is the UAE country manager for Harley Davidson Mena. He talks about how the brand competes in a fast-car culture.
Harley entered the Emirates over 20 years ago. How significant is this market today?
It's one of the markets where we are seeing the most significant growth in interest in our brand, so it's a very important part of our growth strategy and potential in the whole Mena region.
What's your biggest challenge in this market?
Most of our customers are new to riding and do not have a licence. We have a new technology to inspire those without licences, called Jumpstart. It's a stand-alone unit where people can experience riding a real Harley-Davidson motorcycle whether they have prior riding experience/licence or not.
Harley and its partner, Al Masaood & Sons, hope to open at least three additional shops in the UAE by 2014. How has demand from customers been shifting over time?
There's been a tremendous growth in interest in the brand from locals, and not just males, but females. [Also,] historically the split was 75/25 expat-to-local, and this has shifted … to around the 60/40 mark at present.
Why do you think that is?
Over the last 20 years, more people have declared an interest, and I think one of the things we do really well is focus on delivering a great customer experience … I think the locals have obviously picked up on that and have started to show an interest and discover a relevant lifestyle.
How do you compete with all those fast cars, given the UAE isn't known for having a motorcycle culture?
The UAE has a lot of enthusiasts, and certainly Harley-Davidson is one of those brands that appeals to enthusiasts. We do have products like the XL 1200 and the V-Rod Muscle that appeals to people who like the thrill of speed but also other platforms like our Grand Touring platform has evolved greatly in terms of bigger engines, so there's plenty on offer.
A big part of your brand is touring. Is there a touring culture here and what are you doing to build it?
The region in general, but this country in particular … has tremendous scenery, and for about three quarters of the year it's really got a great climate. The roads are also great, so from a touring perspective it's the ideal place. There are few places better, I would say, around the world to enjoy a Harley-Davidson, and our local dealerships do ride-outs weekly with their Hog [Harley Owners Group] chapters. We have big events like the Dubai Bike Week that we take part in and we have big events that their Hog chapters offer.
What innovations does Harley have to protect riders from the heat?
There are products for the heat, like heat covers, and we have something that we call the hydration vest, which has a great cooling effect when riding in extreme heat.
* Gillian Duncan