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March 20, 2023

Travel Goods Continue Climb in Face of Economic Headwinds

By: Mike Duff

Contributing Editor

The luggage and travel goods business fell sharply during the pandemic, but the sector is staging a comeback amid the resurgence of business and recreational travel.

The luggage and travel goods business fell sharply during the pandemic, but the sector is staging a comeback amid the resurgence of business and recreational travel.

Beth Goldstein, travel accessories industry analyst at Circana (the newly named company formed from the merger of The NPD Group and IRI), said chances for continued growth are good even if inflation and economic uncertainty provide something of a drag on momentum.

Goldstein explored the state of the travel goods industry during an Innovation Theater session at The Inspired Home Show 2023 in Chicago. The International Housewares Association partnered with the Travel Goods Association to feature a Travel Gear & Luggage exhibit during The Inspired Home Show.

The “big picture” perspective, Goldstein said, is that travel is gaining. In an important development, travel to major urban centers is increasing, in part because of gradually stronger international travel, she added.

Luggage “has had a nice recovery,” Goldstein said, with travel goods generating sales of $7.6 billion in 2022, up from $6.5 billion in 2021 and $6.3 billion in 2022. She added that dollar sales had recovered in 2021, and unit sales had recovered to the pre-pandemic range in 2022.

During the recent holiday season, luggage sales were up from the start with the October-to-mid-November period up 16% versus the same stretch of 2021. Year-over-year-proportional advances remained the same as dollar sales peaked in the Thanksgiving-to-Cyber Monday period then held the 16% advantage over 2021 through December even as dollar sales tailed off through year’s end.

“The luggage business was good for holiday,” Goldstein said. “It was one of our top-performing categories.”

Goldstein added that Cyber Monday was the height of holiday sales, rather than Black Friday, as travel accessory sales have shifted online.

She said the travel goods sector still faces headwinds from inflation. The difficulties airlines have experienced lately are another factor that will affect the market, not to mention fuel costs, which lately have fallen but still can have their impact. Besides lower gas prices, the strong dollar, less of a COVID-19 concern, pent-up demand, return to business trips and remote work all favor additional travel and, of course, as much of the purchasing of luggage and related accessories occurs around trip scheduling, additional purchasing of travel-related products.

Leisure travel is gaining slowly, while trends suggest business travel will experience a fuller recovery in 2024. What’s rising, particularly, is blended travel, for which people who are working remotely extend weekends, in one example, by working from their temporary accommodations during the day and enjoying a destination in the evening. Camping has become a bigger form of recreation, and Goldstein suggested that travel accessories that are also helpful in that outdoor environment are an opportunity for the luggage and accessories sector.

Luggage features that consumers favor come in a little differently when expressed by men and women. For instance, wheels are a top priority for both genders but 72% of women prioritize them versus 55% of men. Lightweight is the second most important feature in both cases, but for 64% of women versus 47% of men. Carry-on size is critical to 47% of women and 36% of men. Fourth place differs, with 43% of women expressing a preference for expandability, while 33% of men say multiple ways of carrying is important. Then, interior or exterior pockets or compartments are a priority for 34% of women, while expandability comes into play for men, with 32% saying it’s a feature they desire.

In looking ahead, Goldstein pointed out that chances are good leisure travel will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2023, then gain incrementally from 2024 to 2026. Business travel should reach pre-pandemic levels in 2024 and gain slightly in 2025 and again in 2026, she said.

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