While Americans are finally getting serious about post-vaccination travel, luggage is still a painfully stalled category. Market leaders like Samsonite are struggling, and VF Corp. is reportedly shuttering Eagle Creek, its outdoorsy brand.
Away, the trendy D2C brand, is hoping to encourage people to pack their bags again. It introduced its new brand strategy with a full-page July 4 ad in The New York Times, urging people to travel abroad to become more empathetic.
“If you want to be a better American, get out of America,” it reads.
The all-text ad goes on to explain that traveling outside our comfort zones -- “taking strange trains, saying wrong things”-- stretches people to a more compassionate perspective. “They come back less afraid of what they don’t understand.”
A spokesperson for the New York–based start-up says in an email that the ad “is the first major expression of Away’s recently unveiled brand strategy,” built on the core belief that “the more everyone travels, the better we all become.”
And there’s more: “By interacting with different cultures, diversifying perspectives, and exploring what makes us unique, we can foster a more empathetic and equitable world.”
That’s a beautiful sentiment. But most people’s passports are still gathering dust, even as domestic trips pick up. The CDC currently rates 50 countries as Level 4 COVID-19 risks, recommending all travel there be avoided. Another 73 countries are at Level 3.
Luggage sales are staging a comeback, reports the NPD Group. While the U.S. travel accessories market lost $1.8 billion last year, there’s a steady rise in travel plans. As a result, March and April luggage sales surged, reaching about 80% of their 2019 levels.
The Port Washington, New York-based market research company surveyed consumers in May and found a third plan to return to pre-pandemic travel behavior in the next three months. And 25% expect to do within the next six.
But while spending for airlines, lodging and at online travel agencies gained 53% in March, compared to March 2020, that figure is still 30% below March 2019.
Away, which is privately held and doesn’t disclose its sales, has taken its lumps. Last April, it laid off 60 staffers and furloughed half of the remaining employees.
VF decided to shutter Eagle Creek because it no longer made “strategic or financial sense” to keep the brand alive, the company reportedly told insiders, as noted in Outside Online. The report added that VF intends to transfer some Eagle Creek employees to its other luggage and gear brands, including Jansport and Eastpak.
Samsonite, based in Hong Kong, has also struggled. “Looking ahead, while we are optimistic about the future, we remain cautious about the timing of the recovery,” its CEO said in its earnings report in May. “The U.S. and China are seeing encouraging increases in domestic travel, and we expect these two key markets to lead our recovery going into the rest of 2021."