The travel industry buckled when the pandemic broke out. Back in 2020, flights were cancelled, plans postponed and suitcases seemingly put away for good.
That was bad news for companies that make suitcases, with sales falling 80% in some cases, according to a German textile and leather goods group.
But the industry is hoping better times are ahead.
“We are very confident that by summer at the latest, there will be movement in the industry in the truest sense of the word,” says Claudia Schulz, an industry spokesperson.
People’s desire to travel is “already clearly noticeable at the moment”, she says. Demand for luggage will also bounce back, Schulz adds.
After several years of a lull, finally, the industry is looking at a clear plus in 2022, says industry insider Jürgen Dispan of the IMU Institute.
He points to pent-up demand on the one hand, plus those who can afford suitcases and leather goods in the premium segment still have plenty of purchasing power.
Nonetheless, the past two years have been extremely challenging for suitcase manufacturers. “When the pandemic-related travel restrictions began, sales in the suitcase segment plummeted,” says Joachim Aisenbrey, who runs the Breuninger shop in Stuttgart, Germany.
“(Demand for luggage dropped)... in some cases by more than 80% compared to 2019,” says BTE spokesperson Axel Augustin. Demand rose slightly last year, he says, but remained far below pre-crisis levels.
But the industry crisis did not affect everyone in the same way.
Fashion company Bugatti says before the pandemic, sales of suitcases made up around 30% of total annual turnover. That fell to 8% in 2020 and 2021, as the virus spread.
The company is now hoping for a better year, also thanks to online sales.
Globe Trotter, a British travel heritage company known for its vintage-inspired cases and trunks, benefited from its exclusive positioning, with fans known to include Queen Elizabeth II.
Realising travel limitations were a problem, chairperson Vicente Castellano took a different tack and focused on selling the romance of travel instead, overhauling the company’s website and selling limited edition items, according to The Week website.
A new digital concept and rethinking the sales strategy all boosted business, according to Castellano.
Meanwhile luggage manufacturer Rimowa, now part of the French luxury goods group LVMH (Louis Vuitton, Moet, Hennessy), is doing better.
Looking back, the pandemic also presented the luxury brand with “unforeseen challenges”, says company boss Hugues Bonnet-Masimbert.
“Without the group’s solid financial backing, we would undoubtedly have been at risk from the severe crisis, especially in 2020.”
But the business is already benefiting from its international reach, with the situation improving in several regions.
By 2021, business in North America and China was already “well above pre-pandemic levels”, according to Bonnett-Masimbert.
Meanwhile in Europe, there was a noticeable upturn in the second half of 2021.
“While the pandemic presented us with unexpected challenges as a travel brand, it was interesting to observe how our customers’ buying habits changed,” says the Rimowa boss.
With international travel at times impossible, many people took more frequent short trips in their home countries instead.
That meant hand-luggage sized suitcases for short journeys became more popular, Rimowa says. The company also benefited from the expansion of its product range to include accessories and bags.
Now, travel companies are advertising trips showing images of tempting beaches, turquoise lagoons and sun-tanned travellers. Airlines are sending out special offers. People are planning their holidays again.
But challenges loom even if suitcase makers manage to put the pandemic behind them like a piece of left luggage.
The next challenge lies in wait for the industry in the form of digitalisation and decarbonisation, Dispan says. Consumers now want their suitcases and travel bags to become more sustainable.
That’ll be a case for some serious creativity. – dpa