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Revived Luggage Industry a Sign Travel Picking Up

Following the mass rollout of vaccinations this year, rising consumer interest in travel has led to a steady improvement in luggage sales. (iStock/yokaew)

Back in the day, luggage company American Tourister ran television commercials to tout the durability of its luggage. Nobody is disputing the toughness of its luggage, but not even American Tourister could out tough the pandemic and the impact it has had on the travel industry, including the luggage industry, which folded (understandably) like a cheap suitcase.

According to market researcher The NPD Group, the U.S. travel accessories market lost $1.8 billion in 2020 when the travel industry came to a screeching halt. But things are beginning to turn around.

Following the mass rollout of vaccinations this year, rising consumer interest in travel has led to a steady improvement in luggage sales, which continue to climb back to 2019 levels. In March and April of this, luggage sales returned to 80% of their 2019 levels, NPD found.

The news continues to get better for luggage and travel accessories. An NPD consumer survey conducted in May revealed that about one-third of respondents expected to return to their pre-pandemic leisure- and business-travel behavior in the next three months, and another quarter expect to do so within four to six months.

Beginning in January, travel spending began to trend upward, with the exception of cruises. Spending on airlines, lodging and with online travel agencies grew 53% in March 2021 versus March 2020, NPD learned, and was almost 90% higher than February 2021, although remained about 30% below March 2019 levels.

“While luggage sales in the U.S. have not yet fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the market is moving in the right direction,” said Beth Goldstein, accessories and footwear industry analyst for NPD. “There is a lot of pent-up demand driving consumer travel aspirations, so travel accessories that are both functional and innovative will be the hot ticket items as people prepare for upcoming trips.”

In addition to luggage, sales of swimwear have also been on the rise, another indicator that consumers are preparing to travel in the near term, according to NPD. The swimwear category has been on the upswing: March 2021 sales rose 185% when compared to March 2020.

Total swimwear sales in March 2021 were up even compared to before the pandemic, with dollars increasing 32% compared to March 2019, NPD said.

“As more consumers in the U.S. get vaccinated against COVID-19, and as regular travel resumes, the timing is right to ready themselves for swimsuit season,” said Kristen Classi-Zummo, director of apparel market insights for NPD. “During the spring break timeframe this year, we began seeing gains across all swimwear segments — men’s, women’s and children’s. People are ready to get outdoors and enjoy social settings again, and products related to travel will continue to benefit from those consumer behaviors.”